3 1148 00548 0223
HIS OWN LIFE STORY
AND WAR DIARY
GARDEN CITY, NEW YORK
AND COMPANY, INC.
KANSAS CITY (MO.) PUBLIC LIBRARY
BY OUBJ,BAY t ORAN & COMPANY, WO,
ALL ftlOHT* HfiaURVSO
miNTBD m TUB UNITS1D TAT* AT
TMB COUNTRY Ufa Mg
LEAGUE OF NATIONS
The American-born boys and the Greeks, Irish, Poles,
Jews, and Italians who were in my platoon in the
World War. A heap of them couldn't speaker write
the American language until they larned it in the
Army. Over here in the training camps and behind
the lines in France a right-smart lot of them boozed,
gambled, cussed, and went A. W. O. L. But once
they got into it Over There they kept on a-going.
They were only tollable shots and burned up a most
awful lot of ammunition. But jest the same they
always kept on a-going. Most of them died like
men, with their rifles and bayonets in their hands and
their faces to the enemy. I'm a-thinkin* they were
real heroes. Any way they were my buddies. Ijes
learned to love them.
SERGEANT ALVIN C. YORK.
MODERN war is an industrial art conducted like a
great modern integrated industry. Improved means
of transportation have made it possible to assemble
and sustain vastly greater numbers of men upon rela-
tively narrow fronts, and these fronts become massing
points upon which the adversaries concentrate their
weight. Machine guns, long-range cannon, tanks, and
airplanes are the modern weapons, and they represent
the culmination of a tendency which has existed from
the earliest times.
Originally men fought face to face at short range
with swords and battle axes. They separated the lines
of combatants a short distance by the introduction of
slings and arrows. The invention of gunpowder fur-
ther separated them* More powerful explosives and
metals of stronger tension have again increased the
distance, until men now fight without seeing one an-
other, but aim their destructive missies over inter-
vening hills to places located by airplane observation.
The directing heads of great armies are far to the
rear- General Pershing's headquarters at Chaumomt
and General Foch's headquarters at Three Fountains
were a hundred miles from the battle line and their
headquarters resembled the engineering and account-
ing offices of great Imsiftess houses. TJbe rival chiefV
tains no loiiger engage in piettoesqpie personal encoun-
ter The "fen$l ,pl? jtn, aitoy^ and even more, the
' " ' : ^ "' ' ' - til ,
general of a group of armies, is a remote figure, and
the process of command operates through hierarchical
stages. When Owen Glendower summoned to his aid
"spirits from the vasty deep," they would not come,
but when the modern commander summons them, they
do come and preponderate in the battle. Along the
line of battle itself, the issue meets with varying for-
tunes here advance and there retreat and the re-
sults have to be concentrated and tabulated in a remote
place before one knows whether victory or defeat has
resulted. There is nothing in modern war like the
final and victorious charge of the guard.
Still, the ultimate object of battle remains the same.
It is to take and occupy enemy territory, and In spite
of the machines which have been introduced, the last
word is finally said by the man. Physical strength
counts for less but character and courage count for
more. The individual soldier who emerges from the
mass has measured strength not with a single antag-
onist, but with all the unseen and multiplied terrors
which modern science and invention have concentrated
around the individual There is no longer the pomp
and parade, the waving of flags and the call of trum-
pets; from the first to last, modern war is a grinding,
deadly business. It Is often said that the glory and
the opportunity for individual exploit have all been
taken out of war, but every now and then circum-
stances still make opportunity, and certainly one such
was made when Sergeant York, with his little band,
found himself surrounded by machine-gun nests to
Chatel-Chehcrry on October 8,
Fortunately the Sergeant kept a diary in which he
tells the story with an impersonal simplicity which
unconsciously tells why it was possible for him to rise
to the emergency.
Born and raised in the Tennessee mountains, York
was utterly uncomplicated. His approach to life was
as simple as that of the earliest American pioneer. He
had not learned to depend upon the co-operations so
indispensable to most of us moderns who have learned
to do but one thing and to rely upon everyone else's
making his contribution to our composite life. Where
York was raised, each man lived the whole of life, met
all of its responsibilities, and performed all of its
tasks as an adequate individual; hence, when York lay
in the brush under machine-gun fire, it apparently
never occurred to him to send somebody back to ask
artillery fire upon his adversaries, or to withdraw him-
self and his men until the nests could be exterminated
by the division artillery. There they were and there
he was, and his job was to deal with them. The con-
sequence was that he did what Marshal Foch calls
"the greatest thing accomplished by any private sol-
dier of all the armies of Europe." With unerring
aim he picked off each adversary as he showed his
head, until the German major in command surrendered
4 officers and 128 men to this single Tennessee moun-
When I saw the Sergeant shortly after this exploit
and with his division commander, General Duncan,
tried to get him to tell me the details of the story, he
shy and reluctant about it all, and gave me only
courteous but impersonal and brief replies to my ques-
tions, until I finally asked him, "Sergeant, how many
of those Germans did you hit as you lay there in the
brush firing at them?" This question evidently seemed
to him a reflection upon his markmanship and his in-
stant reply was, "Mr. Secretary, I should be sorry to
think I had missed any of them."
As told in the Sergeant's diary, this and all the other
incidents of his military career have a severe and
classic simplicity. He put it down each night as it
seemed to him with never a thought of fine writing,
but with the conscious accuracy of a sheriff making an
official return. The consequence is that the Sergeant
does not seem a hero to himself, though he seems to
us about as heroic a figure as the lion-hearted Richard
or the gallant and delightful leader of the White com-
When the war was over, the Sergeant immediately
became again the Tennessee mountaineer- He has seen
two things: the world, which apparently attracts him
less than his native mountain; and the need for educa-
tion and training, which he has determined must be
now made available to his fellow citizens in the Ten-
nessee mountains. His projected school is as unselfish
a contribution to one's fellow men as any hero ever
planned, and the monument he plainly desires for him*
self Is neither marble, nor bronze, nor lurid pages of
biographical description, but rather finer and fuller
lives lived on the hillsides of Tennessee by men and
women enriched by opportunities available to them
because he scorned to use them selfishly for himaelf*
This little book ought to be read by Americans
everywhere, both because Sergeant York is a national
possession, and also because it teaches the priceless
value of individual character and may warn us here in
America from allowing our children, who have to use
machines, from being themselves made into machines.
NEWTON D. BAKER
THIS is the story of Sergeant Alvin C. York of Ten-
nessee, the outstanding hero of the World War and
one of the greatest individual fighters in the history
of modern or legendary warfare. In the heart of the
Argonne Forest on October 8, 1918, practically un-
assisted, he whipped an entire German machine-gun
battalion, killing twenty-eight of the enemy, capturing
thirty-five machine guns and with the help of a hand-
ful of doughboys bringing in one hundred and thirty-
For this extraordinary feat of arms he was awarded
the Congressional Medal of Honour, the French
Legion of Honour, the Croix de Guerre with palms,
the Medaille Militaire, the Italian War Cross and a
number of other high Allied decorations. General
Pershing eulogized him as "the outstanding civilian
soldier of the war." And General Foche, in deco-
rating him, said, "What you did was the greatest
thing accomplished by any private soldier of all of the
armies of Europe,"
Returning to New York City in May, 1919, he was
tendered the greatest reception ever accorded an
American soldier of subordinate rank returning from
war. A few days later in Washington, D. C., both
houses of Congress welcomed him in a joint session
and cheered him to the skies.
He was offered fortunes to go into the movies, on
the stage, to write for the big newspaper syndicates,
and to sign advertisements. But he firmly refused to
commercialize his fame, and with the naive comment,
" Wouldn't I look funny in tights ?" turned his back on
the world and "jes lit out for the old log cabin in the
mountains and the little old mother and them-there
hound-dogs of mine and the life where I belong."
Sergeant York was not a professional soldier, nor a
member of the Regular Army, nor even a volunteer.
He was a drafted man. He went reluctantly and with
misgivings. He bore no hatred toward the Germans;
he did not want to kill them or anybody else. In camp
there were insistent rumours that he was a conscien-
tious objector. And in the archives of the War De-
partment in Washington, D. C., there are letters and
applications asking for his exemption from military
service on the grounds that his religion was opposed to
war and fighting-
He tells the story himself that "he was worried
a-plenty as to whether it were right or wrong." For
two days and a night he knelt out on the mountain-
side and prayed to God for guidance. "And I re-
ceived my assurance. I received it from God that it
were all right, that I would go and that I would come
back unharmed," And he scarcely ever doubted* He
never once lost his simple faith, not even when the
thirty-five machine guns were blazing almost certain
death right into his face. He told his mother not to
worry, that he was coming back all right. He told
the same to his brothers and sisters, and to his friends*
He wrote it in his diary. His faith was as immovable
as the mountains of his native Tennessee*
He was born of good pioneer stock in a one-room
log cabin in the mountains of Tennessee, off the ml*
road line. He was one of a family of eleven children,
eight boys and three girls, all of them husky and strong
and most of them freckle-faced and red-headed. One
of his characteristic sayings is, "You may find a red-
headed man in a penitentiary but you will never find
one in an insane asylum."
He is the biggest of the York family. He stands
over six feet in his woollen socks, weighs more than
two hundred pounds, and is raw-boned, red-headed, and
freckle-faced. He has never been whipped or knocked
off his feet in his life and has the reputation in the
mountains of being one of the deadliest shots that ever
squinted down the long barrel of a muzzle loader and
busted the head of a wild turkey or picked a squirrel
off a distant tree. He has eyes of blue-gray; sky-blue
and gun-metal gray; eyes, which pin-point when they
look at you and seem to see through sham and make-
believe. Withal, eyes which beam in the presence of
Broad-shouldered, stout-chested, deep-dugged,
thewed and muscled like an ox a mountain of a man,
York of Tennessee. And like the mountain he has
his feet on the earth and his head in the stars. And
like the mountain again he has emerged through cloud
and storm to learn patience and "the peace which pass-
eth all understanding.' 7
In his youth he "went bad." He gambled, guzzled
moonshine, cussed, and tore up things. This did not
last long. Realizing he was missing the finer things,
he gave up dissipating completely and forever. Since
1915 he has never tasted liquor, smoked, chewed, gam-
bled, cussed, or eyen lost his temper. Again to quote
him: "I am a great deal like Paul the things I once
loved, I now hate."
Before the war he "went religious 1 ' and was known
in the mountains as the "Singing Elder."
He finished school with the equivalent of a second-
grade education. It is doubtful whether he could have
passed the second grade. He is not educated "in the
larnin' that comes out of books." But he is a man of
keen native intelligence.
He has turned his back on the outside world and is
dedicating his life to the education of boys and girls in
the mountains. He is building an agricultural institute
in the heart of the mountains and off the railroad. He
is planning to bring "a heap of larnin' " to his own
His is probably the most dramatic human story that
has come out of the World War, It is one of the
most significant spiritual documents in the world to-d^y.
It has the stir and the sweep of an American epic. *
***Btth Sergeant York and I feel it would not be right
to end this preface without acknowledging our indebt-
edness to the officers of the War Department in
Washington, D. C, and to CoL George E. Buxton,
junior, of Rhode Island (official historian of the Sad
Division), for their co-operation and permission to ex-
amine and publish many of the official "York docu-
We also wish to thank Mr. Maurice G* Hindus of
New York City for his help in examining the docn*
ments and going over and checking the story*
I. THE YORK COUNTRY
II. THE HOUSE OF YORK
III. THE STORY OF THE STORY
V. LONG HUNTERS
XI. SHOOTING MATCHES
XII. LARNIN' FROM NATURE
XVIII. CONSCIENTIOUS OBJECTOR
XIX. THE SWORD AND THE BIBLE
XXI. OVER THERE
XXIL ST. MIHIEL
THE ARGONNE FIGHT 217
OFFICIAL STORY OF FIGHT 236
OFFICIAL STORY OF FIGHT (Continued) 260
ABOVE THE BATTLE 270
THE ARMISTICE 279
A HEAP o' LARNIN' 303
LIST OF ILLUSTRATIONS
Sergeant Alvin C. York Frontispiece
Famous Tennessee Shooting Matches ... 38
A Typical Creek-Bed Road in the Mountains . 86
Turkey Shooting 36
Hunting Companions 114
Spoils for the Victor 114
Preaching on the Mountainside 146
York Agricultural College 146
A Tennessee Home 206
On the S, S. Ohioan 290
In a Peace-Time Setting 3 02
THE YORK COUNTRY
I FIRST saw Sergeant Alvin C. York in^New York
City the day he returned from France in the spring of
1919. What a day it was! What joy, what frenzy,
what abandon had seized on the most hard-boiled city
in the world ! It seemed as if the floodgates of men's
very so^s had burst apart and all the pent-up passion
of centuries had stormed forth in a mighty surge.
Mobs everywhere, with banners, bands, bells, whistles,
singing, screaming, clanging, whistling, and in every
other way acclaiming the big hero of the day. Every-
body's hero, everywhere. Ticker tape in endless waves
streamed down from the tall buildings and flaked the
streets until it seemed as though a blizzard had swept
over them. The Sergeant himself, in commenting on
this scene, or rather siege, or rapture, remarked:
"There was a right smart crowd of people out and it
seemed as though most of them knowed me."
Of course they "knowed him." How could they
help it? They had read and heard so much of him.
For weeks newspapers had printed endless stories of
his extraordinary feat in the Argonne Forest. Mar-
shal Foche and General Pershing had officially men-
tioned it in their dispatches. The returning dough-
boys guaranteed that it was true, every word of it, and
2 SERGEANT YORK
there were the medals and other decorations on his
chest for all the world to see.
More stones had poured forth of his exotic moun-
tain background, his deadly skill with rifle and pistol,
his amazing knowledge of woodcraft, his tender so-
licitude for the American wounded during the battle
in the Argonne, his chivalrous treatment of the Ger-
man prisoners, his great piety, and, most unbelievable
of all, his having originally been a conscientious ob-
jector! Certainly a dramatic personality, fitting mag-
nificently the scene and the spirit of the day.
I was one of the thousands that stormed the streets
of the city. A returned wounded soldier myself, I felt
poignantly the meaning of this uproarious welcome, its
joy, and, almost as much, its undercurrent of sadness.
I knew machine guns. I knew the staccato bark, the
spitting yellow flame, the swish of bullet,;, and the
double-distilled hell they sowed wherever they fell I
knew that they fired six hundred shots a minute in a
steady stream like water from a hose, I knew that a
skilled machine gunner could cut his initials on a sand-
bag. And I knew that German machine gunners shot
straight Again and again I had seen squads, pla-
toons, and whole companies charge them and go down
like ripe corn before the reaper's blade* And this big,
gangling mountaineer had whipped a whole battalion
of them !
At first I was sceptical Who was not? It sounded
too much like a fairy tale. It just could not be done,
It was not human. Yet it was done* Therefore, it
could be done and it was human* It was one of
THE YORK COUNTRY 3
best documented stones of the war. Appreciating that
it was an almost unbelievable feat, the officers of his
division very wisely lost no time in checking up and
verifying it beyond the slightest shadow of a doubt.
They carefully examined and took the affidavits of the
surviving doughboys who were with York, but who,
according to their own statements, took little or no
part in the actual fight with the machine guns. They
re-visited the battlefield and checked up the account of
the battle the following morning and again after the
armistice. Their report was thorough and convincing:
The story has been carefully checked in every
possible detail from headquarters of this division
and is entirely substantiated. Sergeant York's own
statement tends to underestimate the desperate odds
which he overcame.
And there was the Medal of Honour awarded by
a special act of Congress. No wonder that New York,
after one glimpse of this sturdy and freckle-faced
mountaineer with his flaming red hair, went wild with
The following morning I chuckled when I read in
the newspapers that "he weren't a-going to commer-
cialize his fame nohow. He weren't a-going on the
stage or in the movies, but he sure would like a ride in
the subways.' 1 It was the language of the mountaineer
and the soldier, direct and decisive, and also of the
boy, eager to play and see the wonder works of the
than ten years have fled by since then. The
4 SERGEANT YORK
world has returned to its normal every-day tasks.
Diplomats have resumed the old job of writing polite
peace notes to each other and building armies, too, and
new machines of war, the mightiest the world has yet
known. Meanwhile, Sergeant York has slipped back
to "the little old log cabin in the mountains and them-
thar hound dogs of mine and the life whar I belong."
Now and then there would be brief mention of him in
some newspaper of a lecture he had given in this and
that city, of his interest in building schools and roads
in the mountain country, and of his efforts to lead his
people to some of the finer things in life. Once in a
while someone would retell in a magazine the story of
his Argonne fight. But that was all. Even his famous
war diary, of which much had been written, had not,
save for occasional excerpts, been put into print. The
man himself had remained a mystery, possibly because
he had already become a legend.
In the spring of 1927, while driving through Ten-
nessee, I resolved to swing into the mountains to visit
York in his own home, I wanted to see him in his
mountain setting "in, that-thar country whar I belong."
I wanted to know how he was faring in his seclusion
"far from the madding crowd," that had once so wor-
shipfully acclaimed him- I wanted to get the feel of
the man, the soldier, the mountaineer, the hunter* the
preacher, the American. I had no thought at that
time of writing with him his story* I just wanted to
satisfy a personal urge, so deep-stirring that it htd
been part of me since that memorable day when I sif
him in New York on his return from France.
THE YORK COUNTRY 5
On Inquiry I learned that Sergeant York was living
in Pall Mall, Fentress County, Tenn., in the heart of
the Cumberland country. The town, if it may be so
called, is off the railroad in the northeast part of the
state, not far from the Kentucky line. Thither I went,
and what a journey it was ! What a road I had to
traverse 1 Now it was a narrow ledge, dizzily skirt-
ing precipitous cliffs; now in the valleys, the bottom
seemed to drop right out of it. It did everything a
decent, civilized road should not do. It flitted up and
down the mountain in unbelievable jerks and jumps.
It led up creek beds. It forded streams. It most dex-
terously dodged stumps and boulders, with falling tim-
ber and landslides thrown in for added thrills. It was
a primitive, barbarous road.
The country around was likewise primitive, but
haunting in its picturesqueness, with second-growth tim-
ber and rock-ribbed fields. Scarcely a white man's
country, certainly not a country of civilized humanity,
It used to be the "Happy Hunting Ground' 3 of the
;Creeks and Cherokees. Once it had abounded in bear,
4eer, and buffalo. The older mountaineers still regale
j&ch other with stories of Daniel Boone leaping on the
packs of buffaloes and bringing them down with his
powie knife, and of Davy Crockett shooting more than
One hundred "baar" in one season. But when the white
settlers, Scotch-Irish, borderers, Covenanters, Cava-
liers invaded the country, they whipped the Indians,
slaughtered the big game and hewed down the forests- '
Now the Indian is banished from the scene. Big game
is almost a memory only and timber is largely of sec-
6 SERGEANT YORK
ond growth. But it is thick again, and rolls over the
mountains in endless swells like ocean waves in a storm.
It is really wondrous country! Sky. Pine. Rocks.
Air that chills and buoys. Vista on vista of blue
mountain peaks. Valleys shot with gold. Water
everywhere, cool, clear, gurgling right out of the
mountainside. Rhododendron bells. Laurel blooms.
Redbud and wild dogwood blossoms, a profusion of
both, and an endless variety of mountain flowers a
country to delight and thrill the seeker of adventure.
And still but sparsely populated. There were miles
without a sign or sight of a human being. Now and
then I would pass a cabin built of logs, with a flat roof
and small windows, sometimes with broken panes or
no panes at all, with a piece of cloth spread over the
frame. Nowhere even a dab of paint. Nowhere a
touch of brightness, save only what Nature in its
bountifulness has provided. Dreary cabins, housing
some of the poorest people in the country and the least
enlightened. In the valleys there were groups of
cabins, small, oft dilapidated, with withered shingles
on the roofs, battered porches, sagging windows,
sometimes twisted out of shape like the eyes of a cross*
eyed man. Occasionally I would see a mountaineer
toting a gun, rangy and raw-boned, with shoes twisted
from wear, and a couple of hounds loping along be-
hind. He would proffer the usual "howdy" and shuffle
on. Once, right in the heart of the forest, I saw &
man working in a field with a scooter plough which if'
all wood but the tiny point, and a woman stooping
over a steaming black wash-kettle in a yard* I
THE YORK COUNTRY 7
stood then why it was that Sergeant York had been
seeking to bring schools to his people.
I drove on. Again woods, sky, rocks, enlivened
with patches of riotous-hued flowers. The whine and
rip of a sawmill, the clanging thud of the woodsman's
axe, the crash of a falling tree rose now and then with
reverberating echoes over the mountainside. Once I
passed a logger's camp. Occasionally on a hillside or
in a valley there would be patches of corn for hogs and
cattle, and even more perhaps for moonshine, which is
more profitable. It is not uncommon in the moun-
tains for some wit to ask you when you call to buy
corn whether you want it In a sack or in a jar. Ten-
nessee "moon" is potent, overproof, and so clear, they
say, that one can read the Constitution of the United
States right through a gallon jar. Moonshining is still
regarded, especially by the older folk, as a feudal right.
The mountaineer insists that "hit ain't agin the Gov-
ernment nohow." Revenue men, like rattlers, and
there are plenty of both, are not very popular in the
But conditions are changing. Improved roads, auto-
mobiles, and better organization work permit the Fed-
eral officers to penetrate deeper and deeper into the
mountains, and with greater safety. Occasionally
there is a fight, but only occasionally. The mountain-
eers have learned that it is bad business to shoot up
Uncle Sam's men. They usually follow along without
much fuss or bluster, or else 'light out into the timber"
where the Government agent, unless experienced in the
ways of the woods, soon loses his trail* Meanwhile, a
8 SERGEANT YORK
younger and more enlightened generation is growing
up. In time "rev-killing" and feuds will fade into the
memory of a picturesque, if lawless past
At last I came on an expanse of flat country. It was
the edge of the Cumberland Plateau, and, though I
knew I was up high, mountains were nowhere in sight*
.A few miles farther I was in Jamestown, the county
seat of Fentress County, York's county. u jimtown, n
it is called, and "hit is on top of the mountain*'* It
has a population of about twelve hundred and boasts
of an old courthouse right in the centre of the square,
a frame school house, post office, pool hall, several
stores, a prairie-schooner mail cart, and a weekly news-
paper. Save for the York Highway, which runs
through the centre of the town, the streets are un*
paved, and what streets! sand and rock, turf and
mud, ruts and hollows in which the water never seems
to dry out, and the sidewalks, when there are any,
are of split and rotted boards, with rusty nails sticking
up, tripping pedestrians and scratching up their shoes*
It is an unkempt, straggly town, with no sense of
style or even comfort Cows browse in the side streets,
and so do pigs. Debris is never swept away except by
the wind. It is an old town, and it looks its age- It is
still dreaming of the Civil War and reliving memoriet
of bushwhackers, moonshiners, Indian fights, big huntt>
and other boisterous incidents of the frontier days. A
traveller passing through the town m 1893 wrote; "It
Is one of the oldest towns in the state? and until tht
last twelve months was also generally regarded by th*
outside world as the deadest It is mid that for thi
THE YORK COUNTRY 9
past sixty years the sound of the hammer or saw has
not been heard there, and not a single nail has been
driven into any new building/ 5
The main show place, in a historical sense, is the
hotel. It stands on the site of the old home of Mark
Twain's parents. Jamestown, incidentally, is Obed's
Town in The Gilded Age. The famous Tennessee-
Land Grant lies close by. Alvin C. York lives on a
section of it. Mark's father, Mr. John M. Clemens,
was a practising attorney in Fentress County, and was
its first circuit court clerk. Mark himself was not born
in Jamestown, his parents having left for Missouri a
few months before he came into the world. In The
Gilded Age, however, he gives the following descrip-
tion of the town:
"The locality was Obed's Town, eastern Tennessee.
You would not know that Obed's Town stood on the
top of a mountain for there was nothing about the
landscape to indicate it but it did. A mountain that
stretched abroad over whole counties and rose very
gradually. The district was called the Knobs of East-
ern Tennessee, and had the reputation, like Nazareth,
as far as turning out any good thing was concerned."
Still, the town is beginning slowly to stir into a new
life. Only two years ago after a rain it was cut off
from the world by rivers of mud. The few roads
there were "begun and ended nowhere," as one of its
citizens put it. But now, though still without a motion-
picture house or dance hall, good roads are being built
to the outlying world. Automobiles and radios are
bringing it into closer touch with outside humanity,
io SERGEANT YORK
and the younger generation is beginning to learn some-
thing about college. There are indications that James-
town is on the eve of big things and may yet play a
dramatic part in the modernization of eastern Ten-
nessee. To a very large extent, Sergeant Alvin C,
York is responsible for this budding renaissance. He
certainly is rubbing the sleep out of the town's eyes and
shaking the life out of it, or, more properly, into it.
I stopped at a town restaurant, Suva's Restaurant,
known far and wide for its culinary excellence. The
usual unofficial court was in session there. Town folk,
lumberjacks, mountaineers, in overalls, blue jeans, and
ordinary street clothes, were gossiping with animation
and were passing judgment on men and events- They
all "knowed the Sergeant,'* or Alvin, as they call him.
He lived nine miles ^.way in Pall Mall, "right under
the mountain"; that is, in the valley below* They
hadn't "seed him around nowhere," but they guessed
he was on the farm. Suva, large and radiant, with
sparkling eyes, was York's most enthusiastic supporter
of them all. It was she who directed me to the Ser-
geant's office across the street
I clambered up the rough cement steps m the back
of the bank building, traversed a dingy corridor, and
entered a small furnished room where I met the Ser-
geant's secretary and his right-hand man, Mr, A. S.
Bushing. Hailing from Brooklyn, Bushing had wan-
dered into the mountain region, fallen in love with $t
native girl, and married her. For several years he had
been a cashier in the bank, and it was there that he
came to know the Sergeant, From the first he devdk
THE YORK COUNTRY n
oped into an ardent champion of his person and his
cause. In fact, he threw in his lot with the Sergeant,
and by that I mean his time, his savings, everything.
He never has wavered in his devotion to the big moun-
taineer, not even when sinister and powerful forces in
the mountains held over him the threat of ruin and
bankruptcy. No story of Sergeant Alvin C. York
would be complete without the mention of this wiry
little Northerner, whose official title is private secre-
tary to Alvin C. York, but who is really one of the
Sergeant's most intimate friends and most loyal cham-
pions in and outside of the mountains.
The Sergeant, Bushing informed me, had left that
very morning for Florida. That was a grievous dis-
appointment to me, especially as I had made this tor-
tuous trip of nearly two hundred miles through the
mountains on purpose to meet him. But Bushing's
hospitality made up in part for the disappointment.
The first thing he spoke of was the school. He of-
fered to take me out and show me the site selected for
it. It was evident that the school had already become
as much a part of the Sergeant's story as his fight in
the Argonne or the blue mountains amidst which he
We motored out along the highway, the very one on
which York had at one time toiled as a labourer for
one dollar and sixty cents a day, and which when com-
pleted was named in his honour. The school site
stretched for a mile along this road, right outside of
the town on the way to Pall Mall. No wonder the
Sergeant insists that, "hit is going up right here." It
12 SERGE ANT -YORK
is situated in the very heart of a clump of stately ever-
greens. It is to be a mountain school in a mountain
setting for mountain boys and girls. It is to be the
achievement of the life work of the big, red-headed,
semi-literate mountaineer who faced all alone thirty-
five blazing machine guns and "jes* teched them ofP's
and then returned home, the greatest of all heroes of-
the greatest of all wars.
Bushing and I sat down under an inviting tree and
talked and talked. He narrated to me the story of
the big fellow's fight to build his school and to bring
"a heap of larnin' " to the boys and girls he loved and
who loved him; a fight to overcome suspicion, jealous-
ies, petty politics, and small-town intrigue, a fight
which, to quote the Sergeant, "was much more terrible
than the battle in the Argonne," and in which he-
"couldn't use the old service rifle or the Colt automatic,
pistol nohow." But then, it ended well, for the pres-
ent at least. The testimony of victory, mute but elo-
quent, lay before our very eyes heaps of bricks, stone,
lumber, all to go into the structure that is to be the
fulfilment of a great dream. The small gang of mis-
guided but powerful politicians, realtors, and country;
officials, bent on exploiting the cause of the school for
purely personal benefits, has been completely routed,
and the school is to be built "where and how hit ought
to be, where the boys and girls want hit to be built, and
where hit is a-going to be."
THE HOUSE OF YORK
SEVERAL months later, after an exchange of letters
with Sergeant York, I received an Invitation from him
to come to the mountains again and be his guest for a
few weeks. "Come right on down here," he wrote,
"and I'm a-telling you we will show you what moun-
tain hospitality is like."
This time, with memories of my first trip still fresh
in my mind, I travelled by rail as far as I could it was
more restful for the nerves anyway. At Oneida, Tenn.,
I boarded the little logging train that runs into the
Cumberlands. We literally crawled through the
mountains, along precipitous ledges, across swaying
trestle bridges, stopping every few miles to switch flats
and box cars. The only passenger car was the caboose
and there I sat with lumberjacks, surveyors, moun-
taineers, amidst heaps of mail sacks and parcels. The
-brakeman knew the passengers and the mountain peo-
ple that turned out to meet the train. All of them
knew Alvin York and the work he was doing, and all
of them spoke of him with an esteem that bordered on
At the little station of Louvaine I was met by Bush-
ing, and we drove together under the mountain to Pall
Mall, the Sergeant's home down in Wolf Valley, A
i 4 SERGEANT YORK
magnificent valley it is, this dimple in the Cumber-
lands, with broad flat lands, towering rocks, and clus-
ters of woods, and threaded with creeks and springs.
Corn glistened in the sunlight; somewhere far away
hounds bayed, following apparently some scent in the
woods. In the near-by fields razorbacks were grunting
merrily and rooting for acorns.
It was Sunday, and the Sergeant was at church so
we drove there. We parked our automobile just off
the York Highway and, making our way through
mules, horses, flivvers, buggies, we entered the little
wooden structure that is the Sergeant's church.
Once inside we were face to face with a scene that
seemed to have crawled bodily out of a fairy story
by Hans Christian Andersen. The church was crowded
with boys and girls, tots all, sitting on hard benches
around the stove. In the centre, reading from the
Bible was the huge Sergeant. He had grown some-
what fuller of body since the day I had seen him in
New York. Little wrinkles had already begun to
make inroads into his face just under the eyes, and
traces of gray had begun to show in his hair.
I had often speculated as to what my first impression
of him would be after this lapse of years. I had pic-
tured him, of course, as a hunter, a woodsman, a dead
shot, a preacher on the mountainside, but somehow I
never had thought of him in the role of a guide to
children. He seemed too big, too strong, too severe,
too much of the fighter and the killer to fit such a role.
Yet, here he was in the midst of them, smiling and
quiet-voiced, with a radiance in his eyes* The eyes of
THE HOUSE OF YORK 15
the children were on him. They followed his every
movement. Around the little school he went, bending
low over each little boy or girl and whispering in their
ears a passage from the morning lesson, after which
he called on them to read the passage aloud. When
they faltered he smiled and helped them out.
Bushing and I slipped into a seat in the rear. We
thought we were unobserved, but we were in error.
Those blue-gray eyes saw us, pin-pointed at us, as is
the wont of the Sergeant when he looks at people
closely, and smiled a welcome. Then he introduced us
to his Sunday-school class, and to our discomfort, espe-
cially to mine, asked us to recite from memory a pas-
sage from Isaiah. This, I suppose, he did to impress
the children with the versatile knowledge of the Bible
that grown-up Christians possessed. A pause followed.
Neither Bushing nor I responded. It was a long time
since I had peeped Into the words of this ancient
Hebrew prophet. I began to look around for the near-
est exit, but the Sergeant's eyes were on me, and I knew
there would be no escape. He repeated his invitation.
Bushing acquitted himself with glory, and I stammered
along and tried to bluff it out, but there was no
bluffing the Sergeant. He looked at me as steadily as
though he were squinting down the long barrel of a
muzzle-loader, and when he resized my helplessness
he rolled back his head and dluckled his inimitable
"Ho I ho 1" Then we sang a few hymns, the Sergeant
leading and his own mellow tenor voice rising above
the others. Now I understood why it was that he was
known in the mountains as the Singing Elder.
16 SERGEANT YORK
At the conclusion of the service we strolled out to
the highway, the children following on the heels of
the Sergeant. He held one little boy in his arms, an^
other was clinging to his hand, and the rest, laughing
and shouting, trailed merrily behind. He looked for
all the world like a modern Pied Piper of Hameln
playing his pipes to another tune. At his automobile
he told us that he could do little for the older people,
for they were too set in their ways and beliefs, but he
was sure he could lead the little ones toward a more
Then I left the Sergeant and went for dinner with
Pastor Pile. A unique character this pastor is, known
over the countryside as Rosier Pile. Farmer, store-
keeper, hunter, he is of the earth, earthy, yet spiritual
enough to have organized a parish in the valley of the
Wolf and to have built a church there, the Church
of Christ in Christian Union, said to be the only one
of this denomination in the entire state of Tennessee.
A handsome man he is, rather thick-set, with gray hair,
keen eyes, and patrician features. He would grace the
pulpit of any church. He is an extraordinary conver-
sationalist, and his faith, like the Sergeant's, Is the
faith that moveth mountains. At first he was opposed
to Alvin, as he calls the Sergeant, going to war. It
was he who had sent affidavits to the county draft
board and had written a personal letter to President
Wilson seeking the Sergeants release from military
service. Alvin's going to war had brought him face
to face with the greatest spiritual conflict in his life*
He fought desperately to remain true to his faith*
THE HOUSE OF YORK 17
But once the big fellow had definitely resolved to go,
the gray-haired pastor of the Church of Christ in
Christian Union "bowed to the will of God." He
never ceased to pray for the safety of his soldier
friend. He prayed in his little store, in his home, in
the field, and of course in the church. To-day, as ever,
Sergeant York has no more staunch supporter than this
quiet-voiced preacher in the mountains.
We visited the cave or rock house under the moun-
tains where Sergeant York's great-great-grandfather
had originally lived, and where the Sergeant himself
had once blacksmithed. We called in the little log
cabin where the Yorks had so long been living. We
passed the tree where Alvin and Grade held their love
trysts, and where they were later married by the Gov-
ernor of Tennessee, in the presence of thousands of
Then we walked to Pile's home and sat down to din-
ner. A sumptuous meal it was of beef, pork, chicken,
beets, sweet potatoes, turnips, lettuce, homemade pie,
and freshly drawn spring water from the mountains.
While we ate Pile talked at length of Alvin's early
days, of his "going bad and his being saved," of his
church work before the war, of how he became known
as a singing elder, and of his uncanny skill with rifle
After dinner the pastor said grace and then we
walked out on the porch. He took down his muzzle-
loader, or "hog rifle," as he calkd it, and proceeded to
tell us of his hunting trips, and of how he busted the
heads of wild turkeys. Here they were then, the Bible
18 SERGEANT YORK
and the musket, the hunter and the evangelist, so typ-
ical of the mountains.
I bade the gracious pastor good-bye and his son, a
college student in Knoxville, drove me over to Ser-
geant York's home. The Sergeant lives on the big
farm which the Rotary Club of his native state pur-
chased for him. He himself built his house, a square
two-story frame building with large windows, a spa-
cious porch, and two gigantic fireplaces a solid, com-
fortable dwelling place almost on the edge of Wolf
River and within hearing distance of the roar of the
As it was Sunday, the whole family had gathered
together. Mother York was sitting before the blazing
chunks in the open fireplace. She's an old woman, with
a thin face that is criss-crossed from forehead to chin
with deep lines. But her voice is firm and resonant as
that of a person in full possession of physical powers.
She wore an old bonnet and a plain calico dress with
a blue checked gingham apron. Old as she was, she
didn't seem to have outlived her mountain shyness in
the presence of strangers. She spoke little and only
when spoken to and always with a laconic directness,
"I -ain't hed much larnin'," she once remarked, "but I
raised up a family of eight boys and three girls in a
one-room log cabin and they's all eleven living- And
that teaches you something about life*"
She is a woman of few illusions. Fame and glory
mean nothing to her* Love and faith and manhood
and womanhood in the old-fashioned fundamental sense
of the word she prizes above all else on earth*
THE HOUSE OF YORK 19
cares not for the outside world at all. She has been
in the city only once in her whole life, and that was in
Nashville when her son, on his return from the front,
was tendered an historic reception in the capitol of his
native state. When she went to the city she wore the
same clothes that she wears in the mountains a split
bonnet, a long dress, and the inevitable gingham apron.
She would not even entertain the suggestion that she
displace the bonnet with a hat and the sombre-coloured,
old-fashioned dress with one that would have at least
a semblance of modern style. She "wouldn't feel
natcheral nohow in city clothes," and she "warn't
a-going to change for nobody."
At that historic reception thousands of people
crowded around her to shake her hand, but she was
neither bewildered nor even Impressed. She was
pleased, of course, at the recognition accorded her, but
her chief wish was to hurry back to the mountains.
She is proud of her soldier son, proud of his great
war record, but proudest of all of his wholesome fam-
ily life, his clean manhood, and his sterling spiritual
qualities. She is especially pleased with the courage
and the hardihood he showed when he resisted all at?
tempts to draw him into the whirl of worldly life
through the allurement of money and glory.
All of the Yorks were in the house, all tall, sturdy,
somewhat unkempt, and five of them as red-haired
and even more freckle-faced than the Sergeant, They,
too, were extremely shy. In fact, they hardly said a
word save the usual * 'howdy" when I was introduced
to them. They just stood or sat around and listened,
20 SERGEANT YORK
with mask-like expressions, betraying not an inkling of
their real thoughts and feelings. Several times I
turned and addressed them, but their replies were al-
ways brief, sometimes consisting of only the words "I
In the rear of the room sat the Sergeant's sister
Lily, likewise red-headed and freckle-faced, with mag-
nificent teeth and sparkling blue eyes* She was as
reticent as her brothers. Not a word did she speak
throughout the evening, though she listened with keen
mtentness to all that was being said in the house and
now and then joined in a laugh.
Then there was Gracie, the tall, blue-eyed mountain
girl whom the Sergeant married. Her luxurious mass
of soft brown hair was done into two huge braids
lifted to the ears and each fastened with a blue cotton
string. Though she had given birth to four children,
she had not lost her girlish glow or even her girlish
ways. If anything, she was even more shy than the
others, this despite her many contacts with the big
outside world since her marriage to the famous Ser-
The four children were there, too, all sons, and all
named for historic characters. Sam Houston, Wood-
row Wilson, George Edwin Buxton, named for York's
major (now Colonel Buxton, of Providence, R. L),
and Alvin, Jr.
The Sergeant himself by his sheer size seemed to
overshadow all the other members of the House of
York. He's the largest of the sons. He stands over
six feet in his socks. He is easily the outstanding per*
THE HOUSE OF YORK 21
sonality in the House of York. He would have been
that without his war record, if only for his colourful
career in the mountains prior to the war. He was
clean-shaven, with a neatly trimmed moustache, as red
as the hair on his head, and with the flush of a healthy
child in his full cheeks. As he advanced to greet me,
I noticed for the first time that he walks with a firm
tread, bearing down with all his weight, first on the
heels, and taking long measured strides as of a man
accustomed to mountain climbing. So individual is
this gait of his that it is easy to recognize him
from a distance just by seeing him walk. Through
contacts with men of the world he has acquired a cer-
tain outward fineness, almost polish, without, how-
ever, losing his mountain manner. He is slow of
movement, but not awkward. He dresses well on
occasions. Indeed, in a suit of gray tweeds he looks
very much like an English country squire. He con-
verses well, too, once he has overcome his shyness.
He has not lost it all yet, despite his travels and his
associations with strangers. Indeed, on first acquaint-
ance he is almost as reticent as his brothers. He has
to be led in conversation, but when he warms up to a
subject his mountain reserve leaves him. He never
argues in conversation, which doesn't at all mean that
he agrees with everything the speaker says. It is just
a way of his, and it baffles strangers, often making
them think that he is either not interested or does not
Here then they were, children of the House of
( York, three generations of them under one roof, and
22 SERGEANT YORK
now for the first time in their lives in a real house,
with a delco light plant furnishing modern illumina-
tion, with a little organ of their own on which to play
accompaniments to hymns, and with several shelves
of books. Shy, almost self-effacing, they withdrew
as if by common consent into the background, allowing
only the Sergeant to do the honours to the guest.
The fire blazed on the open hearth. One of the
Sergeant's brothers carried in a fresh chunk, and it
immediately began to smoke and then burst into a
bluish flame. The Sergeant and I moved close to the
fire, and we both talked away with much gusto. Not
of the war not yet not of his dreams for the fu-
ture but of life and men and nature and rifles and
dogs and hunting and children. When chore time
came his brothers slipped unnoticed out of the house,
and the Sergeant and I continued talking until long
after dusk had settled over the valley. He invited
me to stay around the country for several weeks so
as "to git acquainted." He would show me around,
tramp me through the woods with "them-thar hound-
dogs of mine," take me out bee-hiving way up there
on "Peevy Mountain" overlooking his farm, and per-
haps arrange a shooting match in his own woods so
that I could see the hill billies come together u with
them-thar hog rifles of theirs and do some real shoot-
ing, busting turkeys 1 heads."
Of course, I accepted the invitation. I had to
go back to Jamestown, and so late in the evening I
bade the Sergeant farewell and left, he agreeing to
meet me in the morning. It was a quiet night. Not i
a breath of wind. Not a stir in the trees. The
mountains blurred and blended in the sky. The mill
dam back of the Sergeant's house roared in a ceaseless
monotone. Cow bells tinkled continuously, sometimes
in the valley and sometimes far, far away in the moun-
tains. Dogs barked. Otherwise, all was quiet in the
Valley of the Three Forks of the Wolf, where lives
the most celebrated American soldier of the World
THE STORY OF THE STORY
EARLY the following morning I met the Sergeant
again in the office of the York Agricultural Institute.
As if moved by common impulse, we plunged headlong
into reminiscing of old days at the front. We yarned
about camp days, rout marches, dugouts, fox holes,
trenches, gas attacks, bayonet charges. In short, we
were re-living and re-fighting the stirring days of the
The next time we met we did the same thing. We
had now become "buddies" and told each other every*
thing about ourselves. This we did again and again,
now at his office, now at Suva's Restaurant, with pork
and beef and cornbread and vegetables piled high in
stacks before us, now tramping over the hills and
woods, and now in front of the open fireplace in his
home on the farm, with wise old Mother York and
Gracie and some of his sturdy brothers around. The
more I heard of his early life the more was I in-*
trigued to learn more and more. The Sergeant will-
ingly enough responded to all questions. He unrav-
elled for me the story of his early days in the moun-
tains, his love of shooting and hunting, his "bad days,"
his u being saved," his struggle with doubt when he was
summoned to war, his training days in Camp Gordon,
THE STORY OF THE STORY 25
in Georgia, his "buddies" in the Eighty-second Divi-
sion, his constant prayers in camps and at the front.
The only episode he was always loathe to discuss was
the Argonne fight. Whenever I would broach the
subject he would dismiss it with a few abrupt phrases
and pass on to some other topic. Not that it weighed
heavily on his conscience. Most manifestly it did not,
or rather, it does not. He is convinced that the hand
of God was in it* Still, it is a story of killings and
he prefers not to have memories of it stirred up in his
mind. But he did speak, and always with animation,
of his plans for the future, his dreams of good roads
and schools in the mountains.
It was then that I suggested to him that the story
of his life be written for publication. But he only
shook his head. He would not hear of it. When he
returned from France he was offered a huge sum
of money for just such a story written by himself.
But he had resolved not to "commercialize nohow,"
and turned down the offer without a moment's hesi-
tation. At one time during his fight with local poli-
ticians for his new school he was so hard-pressed for
funds that he was willing to have his war diary-
printed. But the diary was short and the publishers
wanted him to build the story of his life around it,
so as to make it a book of appropriate size. At
first he agreed to do it. But on reflection he changed
his mind. He would not lay himself open to the criti-
cism of attempting to exploit for personal advantage
his war prestige. However, I pressed the matter
with vigour again and again. But of no avail. He
36 SERGEANT YORK
Was firm in his decision not to write his life story* He
had no objection to my writing it myself. But he
would have no hand in it. It could not be his story
Once I asked to see his war diary. At first he re-
fused. Only twice had he taken it out of the vault
In the bank in which he has kept it since his return
from the war, and that was to please two journalists
who were determined to read it. However, he had
them promise that they would not publish any of it,
and^hen they did he was grieved. He was deter-
mined to keep it under lock and key until he was dead,
so that his children could have it as a record of his
war experiences. Not even Bushing, his closest friend,
had ever read it. So, when I asked to see it, he just
smiled and politely shook his head.
I had almost given up hope of seeing it when one
morning he asked me in a way so jovial that I won-
dered if he was in earnest, whether I still cared to
read his war diary. Of course I did, I told him.
.And to my unexpected joy he went out and came back
with it. I was curious to know how he had managed
to keep a diary, knowing only too well that the war
authorities sternly forbade men indulging in such prac-
tices, and this was his explanation :
"Well, I kept a little notebook in America jes to
remind me of places I had been. When I got to
France I bought one of them little black French note-
books. I carried this little diary in my pocket Every
night I put down what happened. I wrote in it in
camp, on the ships and in the fox holes and trenches
THE STORY OF THE STORY 27
at the front. I wrote in it every night. Of course I
knowed no soldier in the American army was per-
mitted to keep a diary. It was against the rules and
anyone caught carrying it with him was subject to be
court-martialled. Because the carrying of the diary,
telling places you had been, what happened, and what
outfit you belonged to, if you happened to be captured,
would give such information to the Germans as we
did not want them to have. The Captain, when the
company was lined up, he would ask if any man in the
company had a diary. He was Captain Danforlh. of
Augusta, Ga. And one day he asked me if I was keep-
ing a diary. And I told him I was not admitting
whether I was or weren't. And he told me it would
betray a lot of valuable information to the Germans
if I was captured. And I told him that I was not
figuring on being captured. That I didn't come to the
war to be captured. That I wasn't going to be cap-
tured nohow. And that if the Germans ever got v any
information out of me they would have to get it out
of my dead body. And so the Captain kept a-going.
And I kept my diary."
After reading it I was more firmly determined than
ever to have him build the story of his life around
it so as to make it not only a record of his war experi-
ences, but a picture of the life and culture and struggles
and hopes of the sturdy mountain folk from which
Now I knew that he was in financial distress. He
had had some unfortunate setbacks on the farm. His
barn had burned, for one thing. He had told me all
28 SERGEANT YORK
that* He was also continually helping out his family
and his plans for social improvements in the moun-
tains could swallow many thousands of dollars. But
I knew that money would not tempt him. It never
had. He is a man of rigid principles and can be
induced to accede to a demand or to embark on an
action only if it is grounded in a principle in which
he believes heart and soul.
So I appealed to his, patriotism. The people, I
argued, were entitled to know the facts of his stirring
life. v They had honoured him as they had few war
heroes during their history, and in a way it was really
his duty to draw them into his confidence and share
with them the story of his whole life from his earliest
days in a log cabin. His only reply to my pleas was :
"I guess I'll jes keep it all for the children."
However, I persisted in my arguments. I pointed
out to him that he could best draw attention to his
school by drawing attention to himself, and this he
could do best by having his story published. He ad-
mitted that he u shure would like to get the school
known, but " He was silent and sat dreamily
looking out at the blue horizon. I continued the of-
fensive. I knew he was primarily interested in boys
and girls. His school was for them. His whole life
he would dedicate to helping them. Very well then.
His story would surely be an inspiration to them. He
was now all attention. He always is when the sub*
ject of boys and girls is mentioned to him. He smiled,
threw back his head, and laughed his good-natured
THE STORY OF THE STORY 29
He said he would think it over. He did. He kept
thinking it over, and he was a slow thinker. Most
mountain people are, except when they are face to face
with a crisis, and then their minds leap like lightning.
There's no use trying to hurry them. They have
their own way of deciding matters. However, once
they come to a decision they're for it with all the
verve at their command. -
About a week later he came to me and declared
that he guessed it would be all right. He placed the
diary and the autobiography which he had begun
writing and all of his private letters at my disposal.
He dictated to me day after day. He gave me a
letter to the War Department, asking them to give me
access to his official records. "If you're going to do
it," he explained, "you might's well know everything."
Later he added, "Jes tell the truth, the whole truth,
and let it go at that."
I knew that such a story would have to be amply
documented with statements and affidavits from the
survivors of the fight in the Argonne Forest, and the
official records in the archives of the War Depart-
ment in Washington. It was easy to find Major
Buxton, the first commander of York's battalion.- He
had written 4an official record of the Eighty-second
Division and York had been in correspondence with
him since the end of the war. But how to locate the
other men, especially those who had been in the Ar-
gonne with York, was a perplexing problem. The
Sergeant himself did not know where they were, nor
even whether they were all alive.
30 SERGEANT YORK
We proceeded to search for them. We managed
to locate Sergeant Harry Parsons, at Hollis, L. I.
He had been in charge of York's platoon. And it
was he who had issued the famous order hurling
the eighteen doughboys against the German machine
guns. Of course, he remembered the occasion vividly
enough, and gladly submitted an affidavit covering all
of his knowledge of the fight. Parsons, a huge, mus-
cular son of Ireland, with flashing dark eyes and a
heavy mop of wavy, dark hair, had been a vaudeville
artist before the war, and after the armistice was
well known in France as the producer of one of the
most successful "soldier" shows. On his release from
service in 1919 he returned to the footlights* But
not for long. He had lost his power of amusing audi-
ences. He had left his laugh in the Argonne.
He became so interested in the project of this book
that he volunteered to help us search out the other
men we needed to make the record complete.
Through the Veterans Bureau we located Corporal
Bernard Early, in New Haven, Conn., where he
operates a restaurant. As the senior non-commis-
sioned officer, he led the four squads behind the Ger-
man lines and was in command when they captured
headquarters of the machine-gun battalion. It was
at this critical point in the fight that he fell with sev-
eral bullets in his stomach and in the arm. He has
only a confused idea of what happened afterward*
His courage and initiative in the early part of the
fight played an important part in the outcome of the
engagement. Like Parsons, he submitted an affidavit
THE STORY OF THE STORY 31
describing the activities of his command up to the
point where he was rendered helpless. Corporal
Murray Savage, the fourth non-commissioned officer,
was killed during the first burst of machine-gun fire.
Captain Danforth, who knew Sergeant York per-
haps more intimately than any of the other officers
and who is now residing in Augusta, Ga., was inter-
viewed and submitted his version of thd Argonne en-
Of the eight privates who survived the machine-gun
fire, the affidavits of seven have been obtained, either
from the archives of the War Department in Washing-
ton or from the official records of the Eighty-second
Division, In possession of Colonel Buxton of Provi-
dence, R. I. Thus, of the eleven non-commissioned
officers and privates who were connected with the
York episode, the affidavits of nine have been taken
and incorporated in this story, together with the war
diary. Likewise the statement of Captain Joseph A.
Wood, Intelligence officer, describing the manner in
which Corporal York brought in the one hundred and
thirty-two German prisoners, and his receipt for them
have been woven into the story, together with the re-
port of Captain Bertram Cox, who, shortly after the
silencing of the machine guns, led his platoon over the
battlefield and stopped long enough to count, rather
briefly, the number of the German dead.
This story is told in York's own way. Great care
has been taken to preserve his mountain dialect,
though it must be remembered that during the past
ten years the Sergeant has read many books and has
32 SERGEANT YORK
met people all over the country, all of which has made
his speech more literary than that of the average
mountaineer. Still this has not drained it of dialect
peculiarities. Thus, like so many mountaineers, York
observes no uniformity in the use of the pa^t or the
perfect tenses. Now he says "saw," now "seed," now
"seen," now "have saw," "have seed," and "have
seen." He is just as inconsistent when he uses words
ending in "ing." Sometimes he uses the final letter
and sometimes he drops it as in "telling," which he
often pronounces "tellin' " or in "fooling" which is
often "foolinV Mountaineers say "hit" instead of
"it." But the Sergeant forgets his h's now and then
and pronounces the word as it is printed. This is a re-
sult of contacts with non-mountain people and their
speech. The same is true of double and triple and
quadruple negatives. The mountain people use them
interchangeably, and so does the Sergeant, except when
he speaks slowly and has time to think. The expres-
sions "you-uns" and "we-uns" occur in his speech with
liberal frequency though not so frequently as their cor-
rect counterparts, "you" and "we." The most extraor-
dinary feature of his speech is its utter freedom from
the least suggestiveness of profanity. Since the day of
his conversion he has eschewed any words that relate,
however remotely, to cussing. Not even army life has
changed his speech in this respect. Once when the
stenographer, in transcribing his speech, inadvertently
inserted the expression "I'll be blamed," he ran his
pencil right through it. Only on one occasion have I
known him to use the name of the Deity in his speech,
THE STORY OF THE STORY 33
and that was when he learned that I had interviewed
Everett Delk, his pal of hog-wild days. "Everett must
have told you God's plenty," he remarked with a
chuckle. When I remonstrated with him that he was
swearing he shook his head and insisted that "God's
plenty" was a thoroughly proper expression.
So this is his own story told in his own way and
documented with his war diary, his little autobiog-
raphy, and the affidavits and statements of his officers
I AIN'T had much of the larnin' that comes out of
books. I'm a-trylng to overcome that, but It ain't easy.
If ever you let life get the jump on you, you have to
keep hiking to catch up with it again, and I never
knowed the truth of this like I do now. It ain't my
fault. It ain't nobody's fault. It jes happened. We
were most all poor people in the mountains when I
was a boy* We hadn't neither the time nor the money
to get much larnin'. The roads were bad. There
were creeks to cross. So I growed up uneducated.
And I never will stop regretting it. Only the boy who
is uneducated can understand what an awful thing ig-
norance is. And when he is suddenly pushed out into
the world and has to live with educated people and has
to hear them discussing things he can't understand, he
then sorter realizes what he has missed. And I'm
a-telling you he suffers a lot.
When I joined the army I immediately knowed what
a terrible handicap rny lack of schooling was. When
I went over to Paris and visited all sorts of places and
seed things I didn't know nothing about nohow, I jes
wished I could have had my early life over again. I
jes knowed I would have got some larnin' somewhere.
Then when I come back home again and found so many
people knowed and wanted to meet me, I kinder felt
all mussed up about it. But until I begun this book I
never fully understood how necessary an education is
and how little chance you have to get anywhere with-
out it. When I sit down to write I know what I want
to say, but I don't always know jes how to put it down
on paper. I jes don't know how to get it out of me and
put it in words. I ain't had the training. Hit's no
use kicking about it. I suppose I have to do the best
I can. I can't do no more. All the same, I do wish I
could have had the advantages of good schools and
books and teachers.
I have promised myself that I am going to get these
things for my children; and for a heap of other chil-
dren too. I'm a-dedicating my life to building schools
in the mountains. If it is necessary I'm going to build
good roads and bridges and provide transportation so
that the children can get to these schools too. If they
can't afford it nohow, I'm a-going to give them a
chance to work their way through.
Mountain people are not great readers. I don't
mean the people in the towns and more settled com-
munities in the mountain country, I mean we-uns right
in the mountains. It is hard to get books and there
ain't no libraries. But we're most all good story*
tellers. And we repeat our stones over and over
again until they become sort of household news.
Whenever you get two mountaineers together you
'most always get a story. Around the old blacksmith
shop, at the store, or at the shooting matches you are
'most certain to hear a whole riiess of them; and when
36 SERGEANT YORK
we visit each other and sit around the old open fire-
places on long winter nights we tell a right-smart lot
of them. Hunting and shooting stories are the most
And the best of them are remembered and handed
down from father to children, jes like the muzzle-load-
ing guns and the old dresses. We never seem to tire
of hearing about old Davy Crockett's baar hunts and
Daniel Boone's fights with the Indians. And we have
all kinds of stories of Andrew Jackson and Sam Hous-
ton. They used to get around these parts. There T s
a whole heap of Crocketts living in Jimtown to this
day. These old-timers must have been right-smart
men. We don't find the like of them around nowa-
days. But times have changed. Maybe we don't live
the sort of lives which make great men.
Since I was knee high to a duck I've heard tell of
these men. I guess what outsiders call history is jes
plain story-telling with us.
So you see we mountaineers, without having read
many books or studying the subject are tol'ably well
informed of what has done been in these parts since the
time of the first settlers. The records have been re-
peated in story form and handed down year after year
until it comes to us.
These-here mountains of old Tennessee, North Car-
olina, and Kentucky were once the hunting and fighting
grounds of the Cherokees and Creeks. They was jes
about the fightinest Indians that ever put on the war
paint. I guess the panthers and wild cats must have
studied their methods. Them-there Indians must have
been kinder fond of these-here parts* The bears and
buffaloes must have attracted them. There sure must
have been a mess of them around here. It was noth-
ing for the early settlers to shoot a hundred bear in a
single season. They say that Davy Crockett shot ten
In one day. I'm a-telling you that's a lot of baar.
Daniel Boone once saw so many buffaloes grazing
in the valleys of these-here Cumberland mountains
that he shouted, "I am richer than the man mentioned
in the Scripture, who owned the cattle of a thousand
hills; I own the wild beasts of more than a thousand
valleys." And there must have been a lot of deer on
the hoof. Some of the old settlers in the mountains
still have the fringed deerskin shirts and moccasins
of their pioneer ancestors. And there were coon, fox,
and panther and all sorts of other varmints. There
But the white settlers come in and started things.
The first to come were the fighting Scotch-Irish. They
come from the borders of Scotland and from the north
of Ireland. They were followed by the Cavaliers
from the hills of Scotland and by the Covenanters
from England, the Huguenots from France, and a
number of Germans. But the Scotch-Irish outnum-
bered all the others. They were the first. They
stayed right on and these mountains are full of their
descendants to-day. These old settlers were the most
independent, God-fearing and God-loving people In the
world. They left the other side rather than bow down
to kings and dictators and accept political and religious
beliefs they didn't believe in nohow. So they come
38 SERGEANT YORK
over here where they hoped to be able to govern
themselves and worship God according to the dictates
of their own conscience. They followed the Quakers
over into Pennsylvania and then hiked down the Shen-
andoah Valley to the mountains of North Carolina,
and from there they fought their way through the
Smokies over into the Cumberlands and Kentucky.
That's how Daniel Boone travelled.
He was a kind of trail blazer. Wherever he led
others followed; that is, if they got past the Indians.
They fought it out all over this country. It was tough
fighting from the start to the finish. They toma-
hawked and shot and scalped each other until nigh
every inch of these mountains and valleys was stained
with human blood. "The Dark and Bloody Ground"
begins only a few miles from where I live. There was
no stopping them-there early pioneers. They gave the
Indians the best they had. It was enough. When they
started anything they stuck it out until it was done
finished. They believed the only good Indian was a
dead one; so they proceeded to make them all good.
And they did a right-smart job of it. There are not
many redskins left to-day; and them that are live by
themselves on Government reservations. The trouble
was there wasn't room enough for both to live in
this-here country. What happened is what always
"happens, when two people fight the strongest won*
And the new settlers happened to be the strongest*
That's the way of nature.
They were the fightinest men. They were always
at it. If it is was not the Indians, it was the
3 4-i -
w CO * .
OJ , ,
^ n^ ,,
.s ^ >.
cu a; js
^ rt . ^
aj -.. >*
u- * "
w, ^^ ; -
^ rt C
<L> . ^
S -(y r-^
M ; C
C g 3
or French or Spanish. The Tennessee Sharpshooters
were in the thick of it at King's Mountain. They
went up the slopes and sharpshooted Ferguson and
his Red Coats until there was nigh on none of them
left. That-there Ferguson was a tol'able hard-fight-
ing man himself, and he and his troops were great
favourites with Cornwallis, And our mountain men
shot them all to pieces. That was one of the turning
battles in the Revolutionary War. The Tennessee
Sharpshooters were Andrew Jackson's favourite
troops. Their old long-barrelled muzzle-loaders did
a whole heap to whip the English at New Orleans.
They were up against it there too. They were
fighting the pick of Wellington's veterans, the ones
who helped to bust Napoleon. And the mountaineers
out-fought and out-shot them. They were well in it,
too, at Pdnsacola and later on in Mexico. My grand-
father, Uriah York, was in the Mexican War and
took part in the storming of the heights of Chapul-
tepec. Them-there old pioneers was always fighting.
Whenever their liberty was threatened they went right
at it. And once when they figured their own Govern-
ment was not doing the right thing by them they
up and founded the free and independent State of
Franklin, which was in eastern Tennessee. If you
step on a rattler he will strike, and if you step on a
Scotch Irishman or a Highlander he will jes natcherly
hit back until somebody gets hurt.
The descendants of them-there old pioneers are the
mountaineers of to-day. We haven't changed so very
much. Of course, we don't wear deerskin shirts and
40 SERGEANT YORK
moccasins and coonskin caps. We get on tol'ably well
now in overalls and jeans. The old muzzle-loaders
are givin' way to the modern high-powered rifle and
shotgun but jes the same there are a right-smart lot
of hog rifles, as we hunters call them, in the mountains
even to-day. Most all of us know how to load them,
with cap and ball; and up to one hundred yards prefer
them to any other rifle in the world. The modern
home is drivin' out the little old log cabin with the
rough-hewn logs and puncheon floors, but they ain't
all gone. You see them here and there through the
mountains. My brother George still lives in the one
in which we growed up.
Even if our clothes and guns and homes are chang-
ing, we still sort of, hang on to the old pioneer's love
of political and religious liberty. We haven't much
use for rituals and prayer books. Our God is still
the God of our ancestors the God of the Old Testa-
ment. We still believe in His word as it has been
revealed to us in the old Bible. In politics too we
still hang on to 'the old ideals of liberty and states'
rights. In our family life too we are much the same.
Blood is still pretty thick around these-here parts, and
we still stick together much like the clans of our an-
The mountains have sorter hemmed us In along
with our own beliefs and ways of living. We kinder
live an Eighteenth Century life, In the middle of the
Twentieth Century. You can kinder trace our pedi-
gree in the names of the towns all through the moun-
tains. There is Pall Mall, whejre I live; and Jamet-
town, the county site; and Livingston, close by; and
Cookeville, and Crossville, and Rugby. Them's good
old Anglo-Saxon names. And to kinder balance
things, there is Possum Trot, Coon Gap, Wolf Valley,
Wolf River, and Burrville. There's the pioneer side
of us. And jes like the towns which are a mixture
of old Anglo-Saxon and the spirit of the frontier
days, so we-uns are a mixture of old Anglo-Saxon
stock, kinder seasoned and hardened in the roughness
of this-here new continent of ours.
So we people in the mountains claim that while we
are good Americans, the sons and daughters of early
pioneers, we are also the old Anglo-Saxon type and
among the purest In America. We still sing many of
the old border ballads and speak a heap of old Eng-
lish words, like "ain't," "we-uns," "y u - uns " and
"afeared." We are big and rangy and raw-boned.
And there are 'most any number of red-headed people
all around. We have a saying that you may see a
red-headed man in the penitentiary, but you will never
see one in an insane asylum.
LONG H U NTERS
BEFORE the war, because I hadn't read many books,
I was kinder ignorant of many of the things that
people in the world outside of these-here mountains
were arguing and quarrelling about. I had never
heard tell of this racial superiority and never even
knowed there was such a thing. I jes sorter imagined
that people were more or less alike and that there
were good and bad and all kinds among all peoples;
and my experience in the World War bore out this
belief of mine.
I was in the Ail-American Division, made up of
boys from all over. In my platoon there were Greeks,
Italians, Poles, Irish, Jews, and a German, as well
as a few mountain boys and some Middle West
farmers. It didn't occur to me nohow to look too
carefully at their branding marks. They was jes
American soldier boys to me and that was all; and I
would be a heap bothered if I was to try to make up
my mind which of them was the best. I didn't find
out then, and I'm a-telling you I haven't found out
since, that jes because a man comes from some par-
ticular place or country he's any better'n anybody else*
It ain't where you come from, it's what you are that
counts. But when I come home from the war and
LONG HUNTERS 43
got to goin' around mbdn' with people, I begun to run
into this talk about racial superiority. I didn't under-
stand it. It didn't mean nothing to me nohow.
So when I say that a heap of great men have come
from these mountains of Tennessee, Kentucky, and
North Carolina, I don't mean to say that we're any
better'n anybody else; and I ain't admitting either
that we're any worse. I am jes stating the facts.
Daniel Boone, Davy Crockett, Andrew Jackson, Sam
Houston, John Sevier, James Robertson, and Coonrod
Pile there they are, and that's a right-smart lot of
real people. They weren't all "long hunters 5 ' and
they weren't all born here, but most of them growed
up and hunted and fought and explored through this
mountain country, and have left their traces all
around. Davy Crockett used to hunt coon in our
valley, and as I said, there are to this day a lot of
Crocketts in Jimtown. Over near Jonesboro there
is a big beech tree with this inscription on it:
cillED A BAR
When Andrew Jackson was public prosecutor for
Tennessee he often had to come into these-here moun-
tains and attend court; and over in Crab Orchard,
which is only a few miles from Jimtown, there is an old
hotel where he often used to stay on his way to and
from Washington. Sam Houston, John Sevier, and
44 SERGEANT YORK
James Robertson also knowed these parts. If this is
not enough, Hodgenville, where Abraham Lincoln
was born, is over acrost the Kentucky line less than
one hundred and fifty miles from our part of Ten-
nessee. I might also add that Mark Twain's parents
growed up in Jimtown. So I say that we have turned
out a whole heap of most powerful fighters and
hunters and statesmen, too. It kinder seems to me
that the three used to go together in them days.
I'm a-thinking that larned peCple who believe in
this-here "Nordic supremacy" would shout their heads
off and say that this is because we're all good Anglo-
Saxons in the mountains. We are, but jes the same
John Sevier was a Frenchman, and if I understand it,
Daniel Boone was of Welsh beginnings. I know, of
course, that blood counts. I never yet have known
a cur dog that was any good for coon or baar; a
mixed-up steer is the foolishest thing on hoofs; and
a scrub horse ain't to be reckoned with a thorough-
bred nohow. I'm admittin' that you have got to have
the right beginnings; but that ain't all. That ain't
enough. You have got to have somethin' else be-
sides the right kind of bringin' up. The best bred
hound in the world ain't goin* to earn a groundhog's
pelt until it has been properly seasoned- And it don't
matter what sort of blood great men have, they have
to have the right sort of conditions to find themselves.
It's jes like our shooters to-day in Tennessee* I
guess our mountain boys are among the best shots in
the world. They can bust a turkey's head at sixty
yards 'most every shot, and they can take the centre,
LONG HUNTERS 45
out of a target at forty paces with the best shooters
in the world. But they wuzn't born sharpshooters
nohow. I'm admittin' they had it in them; and I'm
also a-tellin' you that they had to be trained and prac-
There's a muzzle-loader, or hog rifle we call it, in
most every mountain cabin. The rifle is mighty near
the first tool that a mountain boy learns to handle, and
there is always plenty of squirrels, turkeys, and foxes,
and coon, for him to get his eye on. Even to-day
hunting brings tol'able good money in our country.
Coon skins bring around twelve dollars, fox pelts are
well worth the going after, and turkeys make right-
smart vittles. In between jobs there is a right-smart
amount of money to be picked up if you know how
to tote a rifle the right way. There you have one of
the main reasons why our mountain boys are such
I am inclined to believe that this is why so many
great men come from around here. They had it in
them at the beginning and they had a right-smart
chance to develop themselves. Those old pioneers had
to be hard-fighting and courageous men. They were
always mixin' it with somebody or other; and they
had to get used to receivin' as well as givin\ It was
dog eat dog and the best won, or they jes kinder
passed out. And they had to be hardy. This was a
tough country a hundred years ago, with Indians,
Tories, bad winters and worse summers, and often
little enough food and a wilderness to travel in, often
with no roads and no bridges, and they had to be hard
46 SERGEANT YORK
and they were, harder'n hickory. They had to be
resourceful. 'Most every man had to be his own
blacksmith, gunsmith, carpenter, farmer, engineer,
and doctor. They had to larn to stand alone.
This was a pretty lonely country and they was
often alone in it. Daniel Boone once stayed out in
the woods in Kentucky for several months without
even a dog for a companion. So, them old-timers had
to larn to stand alone and the man that larns that
becomes the strongest man there is.
All of these things went a long way towards mak-
ing these men the kind of men they was, great men.
They was sort of shut off from other folks In the
outside world and they jes had to go ahead and settle
their own problems and kinder make their own coun-
try. So they went ahead and done it.
Next to a man who reads his Bible, we mountain
people most admire one who knows how to tote a
rifle. I riccolect that when I first went into the army
and went out on the rifle ranges at Camp Gordon,
Atlanta, Ga., and seed some of them Greeks and
Italians shoot, ho! ho! I didn't have much respect
for them nohow. They was the worstest shots that
ever shut eyes and pulled a trigger. But later, when
I had done been with them over there in France and
seen them fighting in the front-line trenches like a lot
of mountain cats, I kinder realized that there are other
things in life besides using a rifle properly. But jes
the same, I kinder like a man who knows how to
squint down the barrel of a muzzle-loader and bring
the bead up until it cuts the centre.
LONG HUNTERS 47
Most mountain people are like me. That's one of
the reasons why we still think a toPable lot of Daniel
Boone. There was a shooter! Whenever he shot
squirrels he never mussed them up nohow. He never
even shot them through the head. He barked them.
That is, he either shot so close to their head or be-
tween their body and the bark of the tree that they
died from the concussion. That's shootin' I'm a-tellin'
you. Of course, the big balls they used in them times
helped some, but hit was shootin' jes the same. He
was a right-smart man with a hunter's knife, too.
Over in the Indian country, when he was hungry and
wanted meat and dares'n fire off a rifle for fear of
the Indians, he would leap on the back of a buffalo
and cut him down. And they say that the buffalo is
one of the meanest and hardest fighters that there
is on hoof.
Daniel Boone come from Pennsylvania and settled
on the Yadkin in North Carolina. After that he used
to tote tobacco in the markets in Virginia. But he
jes natcherly couldn't stay in one place long enough
to make the ground warm under his feet. He had to
be up and going, always to new country; and he never
turned back, not for all the Indians in creation. He
kinder had a hungering always for new ground. If
he seed a new cabin going up or some new settlers
coming in he sorter felt crowded and begun to search
around for more room and the wilderness. He jes
natcherly had to have game to hunt. No hunting and
there was no Boone. I think the reason why he always
whipped the Indians was because he could do anything
48 SERGEANT YORK
that they could and could do it a heap better' n they
could. He could out-shoot, out-hunt, out-run, out-
fight and out-smart any of them. They often tuk him
prisoner but they never could keep him long. Some-
how he always seemed to be able to slip away.
Next to his shooting I most like him for the way
he liked to be alone. On his first expedition through
the mountains into Kentucky his companions were
either killed or turned back and he stayed on all alone
for several months. He was the only white man in
the whole of what is now Kentucky. He hadn't any
companions of any sort. He was all alone, by him-
self; he hadn't even any bread, or sugar, or salt. But
he stayed jes the same. He hunted and explored and
wandered around and had a right-smart time. It tuk
a great man to keep a-goin' like that, all alone in the
wilderness for months with the nearest white man
hundreds of miles away. And the only time, so they
say, that the Indians nearly ketched him off his guard
was when he was a-standin' on the bluffs above the
Ohio River lookin' kinder dreamy-like at the waters
and the sun a-goin' down behind the trees ; and while
he was doin' this the Indians tried to jump him, but
they never got him. As quick as a rattler he turned
and jumped into a tree sixty feet below and got away.
I guess them Indians wondered what sort of a man
I would most awful liked to have seen him dressed
in them-there black deerskins he used to wear, with
his hair all platted up in the pioneer way, standin'
lookin' acrost the river at the sunset with them-there
LONG HUNTERS 49
Indians a-crawlin' up behind him without a chance in
the world to get their hands on him. And that jump
down into the trees, ho ! ho I
I guess hit's my love of good shootin' more'n the
fact that old Davy Crockett once hunted coon with my
great-great-grandfather that makes me like to listen
in on any story, or read anything I can git a-hold of
about him. Old Davy may not have been the explorer
and statesman that Daniel Boone was, but to my way
of thinkin' he was even a better hunter and fighter.
If he was in the wilderness he jes natcherly knowed
where to find game and to bring it down without
wastin' powder and lead. They say that when he was
with General Jackson's army and the men was starv-
ing all around him that he would always get something
for himself and for a lot of others. He used to call
his favourite rifle Betsy; and we-uns in the mountains
think such a lot of old Davy that a right-smart number
of us call ours after that old muzzle-loader of his.
Right down the line, Davy Crockett come from
fightin' stock. He has Scotch-Irish blood in him. His
grandfather and grandmother was killed by the
Indians. His father fought in the Revolutionary War
and David himself was a soldier with General Jackson
and in the end died like a man at the Alamo.
He must have been jes about the greatest baar
hunter that ever lived. When Davy with his muzzle-
loader and baar hounds went out after them they
hadn't much chance. He knowed their habits and
their feeding grounds almost as well as they knowed
them themselves; and in the winter time he knowed
S o SERGEANT YORK
how to locate them in hollow trees and in their cane
houses and harricanes. He was such a right-smart
hunter that he could always tell whether they were up
in the tree or not. He knowed that when they climb
up they don't slip a bit but when they come down they
leave long scratches.
One dark night Davy and his dogs got into a most
awful mix-up with a screamer of a baar which they
done treed in a big poplar. He shot the baar down
but it was only wounded. Then in the darkness they
all got mixed up and went to it. He couldn't use his
rifle when in the darkness. So he jes got out his
old hunting knife and went into it right. The dogs
chased the baar into a big crack in the ground and
Davy let fly with his old muzzle-loader gun, but instid
ef killing the baar he wounded it in the fleshy part
of the back. That made it roarin' mad. It come
out of the crack and they went at it agin. In the
mix-up Davy lost his rifle, so he picked up a pole and
begun to punch the baar about until finally, with the
help of his hounds, he got it back in the crack again.
And they all got down after it. The baar was mussin*
up the dogs right smart, and Davy, like the good
hunter he was, didn't like that a bit. He must have
been jes about as mad as the baar. He jumped down
right on the baar's back, and in the darkness, with the
baar and the dogfc barkin' and roarin' and fightin' and
scratchin' and bitin', he jes finished that old baar
with his hunter's knife, ho! ho!
It was a cold night and everything was too wet to
start a fire, but he got the baar out of the crack and
LONG HUNTERS 51
dressed it. He tended to his hounds the best he could.
Then to keep from freezing he clum up a tree which
hadn't a limb on it for thirty feet, and locked his arms
together and slid down to the bottom. He done this
all night, climbing up and sliding down over a hundred
times ; and he said that this sort of exercise made the
inside of his arms and legs feel pretty good.
Another time his dogs found a baar in a hollow
tree. Davy clum up a tree and looked into the hollow
to make sure the baar was there. It was there all
right. It poked its head out of the hole and Davy
come down like a streak of lightnin' and the bear come
after him. Davy was on his feet first, and with the
help of his hounds and that old muzzle-loader that
didn't know how to miss nohow he got the baar.
Once when he was down in Texas he got into a
most awful mix-up with a panther. He was prowlin'
round in the trees lookin' for a bed for the night
when he almost ran head in onto the cat. But he beat
the cat to it. He let fly with Betsy and in the mix-up
only wounded the panther, and it kept a-ct>min' right
at him with four claws and a mouth full of slashin'
teeth and two hundred pounds of wounded, mean-
fightin' cat. He hadn't time to reload, so he used his
rifle as a club ; but that was no use, so he throwed it
away and went after the panther with his huntin'
knife. They got into several clinches and mussed each
other up, but Davy killed it dead. That's the sort of
fighter he was*
Oncet around Christmas time when he was out of
meat and other provisions and had run short of pow-
5 2 SERGEANT YORK
der lie went afoot five miles through creeks and
flooded country, crawling over rocks and wading up
to his shoulders in half-frozen water to his brother-
in-law's for a keg of powder. It was way below
freezing and he was wet through; and several times
he was nearly drowned or washed away; and during
the last part of the journey he had practically no
feeling in his legs. But he got there.
He got the powder and he brought it home in much
the same way. Hickory was soft beside of old Davy
Crockett. He was even more fond of politics than
he was of baar-hunting. He was a right-smart poli-
tician, too. He knowed most all of the tricks of the
trade. Oncet when he was campaigning he come to
a town where the only way he could get the votes was
by buying whiskey for the voters. He hadn't any
money so he jes went out in the woods with that-there
gun of hisn and got him a coonskin which he was able
to turn m for the whiskey.
The voters drunk it up and wanted more. Davy
noticed the skin hanging over the bar. He stole that
same coonskin several times and kept selling it back to
the saloon keeper without him knowing nothing about
it. He got the whiskey and the votes too.
Like Daniel Boone, he didn't much like being
crowded. He often visited the big cities, but he was
more at home in the wilderness. It was the most
natcheral thing for him to go off to Texas, He knowed
what that Texas fight was all about. He wanted
to carve out a new career down there and help get
the state for Uncle Sam, Jes like w?iter kmows how
LONG HUNTERS 53
to find its own level, old Davy knowed how to find
the hottest fightin'.
So he went straight to the Alamo. He was right
with them when they was surrounded by the thou-
sands of Mexicans. He 'fought like a baarcat and
when the Mexicans broke into the fort in the morning
he was one of the six men still living. He was backed
up in the corner of the fort with a broken rifle in one
hand and a big bowie knife in the other. There was
about twenty Mexicans wounded or lying dead all
around him, and he was yellin' at the others to come
and get him. They jes bore him to the ground and
he went down a-fightin'. After the surrender when
they got out the wounded and the dead they found
him very much alive and a-kickin', so they marched
him out with the five other prisoners. They was
takened before a Mexican general and his officers,
who instid of treatin* them properly begun to most
cowardly cut them down with their swords. When
Davy seed this he let out a roar like a wounded baar
and leapt at the Mexicans with his bare hands. But
he had no chance. They jes hacked him to pieces.
So old Davy died as he lived, a most awful brave and
wonderful fightin' man.
Andrew Jackson, too, was another Tennesseean,
who natcherly knowed how to shoot and fight. We
kinder looked upon him as the greatest of them all;
and even to this day they say that back of the cane
breaks when the Presidential election comes around
the people still go to the polls and vote for Old
Hickory. Of course, that's only a story, but it sorter
54 SERGEANT YORK
shows how really alive he still is. We talk about him
jes as though he only lived a few years ago. He was
the first state prosecutor for Tennessee and he had
to visit every court in the state. They say he was
pretty short on law and pretty long on fightin'. He
was as full of fightin' as a mountain cat when the
hounds have cornered it.
And Old Hickory's friend, Sam Houston, was an-
other celebrated man in Tennessee. He stood near six
feet six. He was a big one. In my home in Pall Mall
we think so much of Sam Houston that we called our
fourth son after him. Why shouldn't we? He was
born right here in Tennessee. He was a twelve-
pounder when he come into the world. And when
our friends come in to see the baby I always introduce
him as "Sam Houston, the man who conquered Texas."
Of course, I know that a right-smart lot of books
have been wrote about these old pioneers and many
of these things are known. But as I said when I begun
to write this, what's history with larned people is still
a matter of story-telling with us, and I'm a- telling
you that these people are not merely characters in
books to us. We talk about them and we sorter feel
them around us as though they were still alive. They
are, of course, as much a part of our lives as these
mountains here and the log cabins and the muzzle-
loaders they used and we still have.
We have other great characters, too, John Sevier,
James Robertson, Shelby, and still others not as well
known. There was also my great-great-grandfather,
LONG HUNTERS 55
Coonrod Pile. He was the first white man to settle
in this-here valley and one of the first in the whole of
this-here part of Tennessee. He come in here in the
latter part of the Eighteenth Century. He was a
Long Hunter, and he come from over somewhere in
North Carolina, with two or three companions, but
they didn't stay. They kept on a-going, probably fur-
ther West. That's the way most of them done went.
But Coonrod Pile, old Coonrod, as most of us speak
of him, stayed right here in the little valley. In them
times it was a cane break with the three forks of the
Wolf a-singing through, and a-plenty of springs bub-
bling out of the mountains.
He spent his first night, and most probably every
night until his cabin was up, in the cave or rock house
above the spring where I used to blacksmith when I
was a boy. It was good protection from the Indians
and wild animals. There was a-plenty of water and
the game used to come there to drink. It was a right-
smart place for settling in. There were a-plenty of
Indians around and the hills and valleys were alive
with baar, panther, and other varmints. And old
Coonrod was the only white man and he must have had
a heart made out of hickory and walnut. He jes went
right ahead and built him a home and put in his crops.
I guess he was a right-smart hunter and shooter, too.
Other hunters come in and joined him, and soon they
had a toV able-size' valley settlement. And they called
it Pall Mall. I don't know why, but I guess Coonrod
Pile in the first place come from England, and maybe
it was jes his sense of humour letting itself go. But
5 6 SERGEANT YORK
Pall Mall it was called and Pall Mall it has stayed
to this day. The little valley settlement went so far
ahead and then it jes natcherly stopped, and here it is
to-day, jes a sleepy, sparsely populated little place,
sorter hid away in the Cumberland Mountains; but it
was the beginning and what is now middle Tennessee
growed up around it.
Pall Mall is older than Jimtown or Byrdstown or
Livingston or any of the other places around this part
of the state. In old Coonrod's time there were no his-
tories kept here, and as the few old-timers who remem-
ber him were only little children at that time, a right-
smart lot of what we know about him is jes hearsay,
but there was court records and land deeds in existence
;which sort of bear out these hearsay stories.
Jes as he was the first, he always remained the rich-
est and most powerful settler. At one time he owned
'most all of the valley and the present site of Jimtown
and most all of Fentress County. He had a blacksmith
shop and general store, farms, and a number of slaves*
He was a hard worker and a smart trader and he had
a lot of money for those times. They say he used to
keep his money in a big safe in a special room. Uncle
Jim Pile told me that old Coonrod, who was his grand*
father, sharpened the prongs of a pitchfork and al-
ways threatened to fork anybody who come near that
room where the money was.
Uncle Jim says old Coonrod was a big man and had
a most awful temper. Most of the other settlers were
a-f eared of him, and when they went to him to buy corn
or whiskey they held the money in one hand and the
LONG HUNTERS 57
sack or jar in the other and jes said nothing. He must
have been a man of mighty strong likes and dislikes.
If you went to him for anything he would look at your
trousers, and if the knees was patched and the seat was
all right he figured you was always going ahead and he
would help you, but if it was the opposite, ho ho ! He
figured you was lazy and always settin' down and he
would run you out.
There are also stories in the valley, but of course
they are only hearsay, that he was most awful a-f eared
of lightning and thunder, and whenever it stormed he
would go right back in that-there old cave or rock
house and shiwer and cuss and wait until hit was over.
The log cabin he built there by the spring, he built to
stay. Hit is still there and until a few years ago was
lived in by Will Brooks, my mother's only brother.
When old Coonrod died years before the Civil War
he left a right-smart heap of money and land, but the
war and the whole army of descendents that have
come down from him have sorter broken it up until
there ain't much for nobody to-day. Old Coonrod
wasn't much heard of outside of these parts of Ten-
nessee. He wasn't well known like Daniel Boone and
old Davy Crockett and the others, but he was a big
man, a pioneer of pioneers, and hit was men like him
going alone Into the wilderness and settling there and
building up the community that helped to make this
As I said before, and I'm a-saying it agin right
here, I ain't trying to make out nohow that we're any
better'n anybody else, but it has bothered me a lot in
58 SERGEANT YORK
my trips around America that a heap of people sorter
look at Tennessee as a sort of backward and ignorant
state. I have heard them go so far as to say that
Tennessee's one of the worstest states in the Union. I
guess that-there trial at Dayton hasn't helped much to
make them change their opinions. I ain't a-going to
argue nohow about this-here evolution. I don't know
much about it either way. I ain't read enough books
to understand it. I ain't for it nor agin it. I don't
care what it proves or don't prove. Like a lot of
other people in the mountains, I have got my own be-
liefs about God and man and such things. They're
real beliefs with me and they bring me a heap of com-
fort and help me at all times and I ain't a-going to
change them for any trial at Dayton or anywhere else.
But I am a-telling you that the state of Andrew Jack-
son, Davy Crockett, Sam Houston, and old Coonrod
Pile ain't got to and ain't a-going to make no apologies
to nobody nohow.
ALTHOUGH we have much the same blood and live
in the same sort of mountains and are a much-alike
people, we-uns in the Cumberlands of Tennessee have
never gone in for the killings and feuds like they have
acrost the Kentucky line. I don't know the reason. I
don't even know that there is a reason, I jes know
that we have had very few feuds, while over there in
the mountains of Kentucky and West Virginia they
were baarcats for them.
I kinder figure that the mountains, because its hard
for the officers to git into them, most powerful attract
careless people. Then when they git located they try
to run out the old settlers and have things their own
way. Then they go to it and one of them is killed
off and one of them survives. I'm not a-going to say
that we don't have any lawless people or any killings
where I come from, but I am a-going to say right
now that the more decent people usually run things
around our part of Tennessee. But acrost the line it
has been a hard, cruel fight. But the decent people
there seem to be getting control agin and the feuds are
The trouble with these-here feuds is that they have
been exaggerated until ftie outside public thinks that
60 SERGEANT YORK
all mountain people fight and kill each other when hit
ain't so. Even in the feud districts, families not in-
volved and even strangers, provided they keep their
mouths shet, are not in any danger at all. But even
so, the feuds are bad enough. To my way of thinking,
they have been a disgrace, both to the people con-
cerned in them and to many of the officers too. ^ And
then newspapers and writers have most often tried to
make some of the feudists sort of mountain heroes, or
mistreated people, or people who don't know better;
and that, of course, has not helped much. Feuds are
killings and that's all there is to it. I'm admitting, of
course, that sometimes the feudists feel that they are
defending their blood and their honour and their man-
hood and womanhood. It's a pretty narrow figuring
out of these things, though. There are other and
decent ways to protect these things without brawling
and gunning and taking human lives and destroying
valuable property and turning the whole mountainside
They generally start over some little thing. The
terrible Hatfield-McCoy feud in Pike County, Ken-
tucky, begun over an argument over some hogs. One
of the Hatfields drove some razorbacks from the for-
ests and put them in a pen in Stringtown, Ky. A short
time after one of the McCoys saw the hogs and claimed
them as hisn and demanded that they be turned over
to him. That started things. First there were trials
and then shootings and killings; and it didn't end
neither till heaps of people were shot and a most
awful lot of valuable stock and property mussed up
right smart. Even women and children were beat up
and killed. And although a most awful lot of people
were shot down in this terrible feud only one of them
was ever hung.
The Tollivar-Martin-Logan feud in Rowan County
was jes as bad. They say that moonshine and politics
was responsible for its beginnings. For years they
went to it and bushwhacked and shot, each other up
until it's a wonder that there is any of them left at all.
Families and relations and friends were drug in and
sometimes even brothers were fightin' brothers. Often
the officers, instid of going right after them, were
afraid or sympathized, and sometimes they even took
a part. Judges and juries were often corrupt, and
the only law they knowed for a long time was that
of the bullet and the killer.
And there have been lots of other feuds, most of
them in Kentucky and West Virginia, a few of them
in the Smokies of Tennessee and North Carolina, and
jes a few here in the Cumberlands. Hundreds of
people have been killed in these-here feuds. Families
have been wiped out, homes burnt and destroyed, ancl
hearts broken; and people in the cities outside the
feud sections have come to regard 'most all moun-
taineers as ignorant, fighting, killing savages. And
the awful thing about it is that so few of the real
guilty ones has been punished.
I live in the mountains. I ain't never been in a
feud, but I know about them. I know some people
who have fought in them, and I say right here, they're
all wrong. A feudist is a killer; and there ain't no
62 SERGEANT YORK
other way about it. I know they often pose as
wronged people, but jes because you are wronged
doesn't permit you nohow to go a-gunning for ven-
geance: "Vengeance is mine, saith the Lord." "An
eye for an eye and a tooth for a tooth" ain't part of
the Constitution of the United States. So if people
are wronged and the authorities are properly decent
as they should be the wrongs should be righted and
the wrongers punished; and if the officers are not
honest, then hit's up to the people to throw them out
and get honest ones.
The f eudists are not heroes ; they ain't never been.
They are jes killers. Often they are jes cowardly
assassins, hiding behind rocks or trees and bushwhack-
ing and shooting people in the back or jumping them
when they get the drop on them or ketch them un-
armed or outnumbered. There is not much of this-
here heroism in that and there ain't none at all in
mussing up innocent people, or beating women and
children, or burning and destroying. And you will
find all of these-here terrible things in feuds.
But feuds are dying out. Larnin' is getting into
the mountains. Roads are being built. Officers are
going after the killers. And better'n all, the moun-
tain people are beginning to understand hit's all wrong
and don't profit nobody nohow.
BUS H WHACKERS
BUT even if we-uns in the Cumberlands ain't been
bothered to death with feuds, weVe got to admit that
we've had our share of bushwhackers. What a lot
of baarcats they were ! The hatreds of the Civil War
are much to blame. Tennessee was a border state,
and like most all the border states, it was all spotted
with human blood. This-here northern part of cen-
tral Tennessee was the raidin' and foragin' ground
of both armies. It was a sort of no man's land, first
occupied by one, then t'other. t We got it from both
Although Tennessee was a Southern and a slave-
owning state, it weren't nohow all-fired in favour of
the Confederacy. The mountaineers have always
been free and independent. They have always kicked
like steers if they were interfered with. They never
could stand the Government telling them what they
should do and what they should believe in and fight
for. That's why they left the other side and come
into these mountains and whipped the Indians and the
British and founded their own civilization. They
wanted to be left alone; and they have always jes
bristled like a porcupine when anybody has tried to
interfere with them.
6 4 SERGEANT YORK
Most all of them have been good Americans, too,
and have proved it at King's Mountain and at Pensa-
cola and New Orleans with old Andrew Jackson. So
when the Civil War come on they weren't going to
be ordered about by nobody nohow. So they got
mussed up right smart. If they were for the North
they suffered when the Southern troops come in; if
they were for the South they got it jes as bad when
the Northerners marched through; and if they was
for neither and tried to be neutral they^ got it from
both sides. I guess there ain't a cabin in these-here
mountains, there ain't a road or a valley or a hill-
side that hain't seen blood and suffering and death as
a result of the Civil War.
Around Jimtown was the scenes of some of the
most awful fights of the guerillas and bushwhackers.
The citizens first formed these bushwhackers to pro-
tect themselves against the raids and foraging expedi-
tions of the soldiers of both armies. They were
guerillas under independent commands and they were
meant to protect the people and property from the
Tegular soldiers and to do what they could to win the
war- Around these parts the Southern Bushwhackers
were led by Ferguson, a cold-blooded killer who was
in jail in Jimtown awaiting trial for murder when the
war broke out. He was then freed and took command
of the Southern Bushwhackers.
The Northern Bushwhackers were led by Tinker
Beaty, who growed up around here. At first they was
tol'able good soldiers, brave and hard fighters. They
protected the people and their property, and they done
done their best to win. But as the war went on and
things become looser and looser and hatreds flared out
worser and worser, like most undisciplined units, they
kinder broke down and done jes as they liked. The
more patriotic uns were killed off or left or went
away and the bullies and the bedevilled uns become
more powerful. Instid of protecting people, they jes
went out to git whatever they could. Pastor Pile's
mother-in-law, Mrs. Williams, remembers them right
smart, and she's told me a right-smart lot about the
bushwhackers, how they done got together and went
around and takened everything they could lay their
Tinker Beaty led a big command of them, and there
was- a lot of little independent bunches who had no
officers. They roamed around the country and when-
ever they caught enemy soldiers off guard they would
kill them. They would kill sympathizers, too, and
they would slip into homes and do their devilment.
Everybody seemed to be killing in those days, but they
was the worstest of the lot.
In the awful days after the Civil War when nobody
seemed to know what was going to happen next and
these mountain communities were the torn-downdest
places you could ever think of, these bushwhackers
bossed and bullied and killed and run things to suit
theirselves. They often hunted out their own enemies
and killed them on the spot. They run others out
of the country and they never did come back. And
one of their favourite games was to buy up for most
nothing the property of soldiers who'd been killed in
66 SERGEANT YORK
the war, or who were in debt. These places were sold
at public sales. Some of the bushwhackers would go
out to the sales and threaten to kill anybody who bid
against them, and they would put in their own low bids
and get the places cheap.
One of the best known was Pres Huff. He was on
the Northern side around these parts. Old Jim Pile,
a grandson of Coonrod Pile, who lives in Jimtown,
knows a lot about Huff. Pres and his father was al-
ways quarrellin' and often near shootin 1 it out. He
was one of Tinker Beaty's men and most all of them
had an awful reputation.
The records of the United States Circuit Court for
the Middle District of Tennessee describes Pres Huff
as a "brigand of the most desperate character."
Well, in the midst of all these killings and goings-
on, young Jeff Pile, my own great uncle, was killed.
It was most common knowledge that Pres Huff done
it. Huff killed Jeff Pile on the Byrdstown road, right
plumb on top of the hill at John Pile's place, right
thar as you straddle the fence. He bushwhacked him,
shot him in the back, and the bullet went most through
and stuck against the skin on the other side. Old Jim
Pile's father took a razor and got that-thar bullet out.
Jeff was not a fighter in the war. He took no part in
it- But Tinker Beaty and Pres Huff and the other
Northern Bushwhackers considered him a sympathizer
on the Southern side. So they got him* At least, Pres
Huff got him.
Jes after the war, while the killings was still going
on, Will Brooks, a red-headed young Northerner, come
into the valley and located here. He fought in the
war on the Northern side. He was in a regiment Q
cavalry from Michigan. When the war ended he jes
dropped out and settled here in the Valley of the Three
Forks of the Wolf. He fell in love with Nancy Pile,
poor Jeff's sister, and married her and settled on her
He was a right-smart young man, around twenty-one
years old. He and Pres Huff were always quarrelling.
Brooks blamed Huff for bushwhacking his brother-in-
law, Jeff Pile. They say that Pres Huff had his eye
on the Pile property and thought if he could get Brooks
out of the way maybe he could get the land. Anyway,
they was always quarrelling. They met face to face in
Jimtown. Brooks was unarmed and had no friends
with him. Huff had his guns and a lot of his gang
around. Brooks had to get out. It was the only thing
he could do. He had no chance. Huff yelled after
him as he went that he would kill him the next time
they met. Some time after that Huff's dead body was
picked up on the road about a mile from his home. Of
course, everybody knowed that Brooks done done it.
My own kinfolks have been sayin' that most all the
decent people here sympathized with Brooks and
thought he done right, but the Pres Huff crowd didn't
see it that way. They went out to get Brooks. But
he slipped off to Michigan. A little later his wife
and baby followed him. They would have been all
right, but they wrote back to some friends and the
letter was intercepted and their address was found.
There was no real law nor order in those days, so
68 SERGEANT YORK
Pres Huff's friends jes organized and went up to
Michigan, with papers, and brought Brooks back and
put him in the jail in Jimtown. A few nights later
they come in to see him and he jes knowed they was
goin' to kill him. He begged them to have his little
girl brunged to him. He wanted awful bad to see
her. But they were not of a mind to be nice to him.
They hooked him to the tail of a horse and drug him
through the streets and jes filled him with bullets.
Well, Will Brooks was my grandfather, and the
little girl, Mary, that he wanted most awful bad to
see, was my mother!
My other grandfather, Uriah York, also lost his
life as a result of the Civil War. He was first a
soldier in the Mexican War. He fought many of the
battles there. He went up to the Heights of Chapul-
tepec and took part in the capture of Mexico City.
In the Civil War he fought on the Union side. He
went away from here and takened sick and stole back
home and hid. While he was sick he heard that the
Southern Bushwhackers was coming in and he got up
out of his sick bed and stole away and buried himself in
a canebreak where they hid the horses from the sol-
diers. He was sick with measles and it was wet and
damp and he takened pneumonia and died.
So you see that both my grandfathers lost their lives
as a result of the Civil War. One was lynched by the
bushwhackers on the Northern side and the other died
when he hid out in the rain and cold from the bush-
whackers on the Southern side.
I'm a-tellin' you them must have been most awful
times. The hatreds and killings were terrible, There
wasn't much law and human life and property weren't
of much account nohow.
So you see that even if we haven't suffered much
from the feuds, we have had a most awful time in
these-here mountains from the bushwhackers and suf-
ferings of the Civil War.
THE people of the mountains always have made
moonshine. Their ancestors larned to make it over
there on the borders of Scotland and northern Ireland,
and they brought the habit over with them, jes like
they brought their Old Testament faith and their love
of liberty and fighting. Even Daniel Boone and old
Davy Crockett most liked to have a drink now and
then. I guess they jes had it in their blood. But the
mountain people hated to pay the revenue tax, which
they thought wa often most unfair.
So they done went ahead and made it In the cane-
breaks and back in the timber where the officers could
not get at them. They used to make it like this long
before there was any prohibition. Then when prohi-
bition come along they felt they jes natcherly still had
to have their liquor. It was profitable to make it for
other people, too, for they always growed corn in these
mountains and it was hard to get it out to market.
Roads were bad and the towns and cities were a long
way off. It was easier to turn it into liquor and move
it out, or sell it to their neighbours. I ain't a-tryin' to
excuse moonshiners. I don't drink liquor myself no-
how, and I don't believe in moonshimn'* I'm a-tellin'
you I would like to see them all cleared out I am
only tryin' to explain them.
A few years ago they sometimes used to fight and
kill and it wasn't safe for an officer or a posse to try
to get in and get them, but that's all changed now.
Lots of folks still make moonshine. I guess they make
more of it than ever, but they have lamed that it
doesn't pay to kill revenue men. So when they are
caught they light out, or else give up without much
Our sheriff in Fentress County, Sheriff Livingston,
who lives in Jimtown, is plumb fired up over moon-
shiners. He is always a-goin' after them. He has
been an officer seven terms, about fourteen years, and
I guess he has captured more liquor than the whole
county could drink if everybody drunk all the rest of
their lives. He knows more about moonshiners and
their ways than 'most anybody else in these-here moun-
tains. He goes right after them. He gets them, too.
He's a brave man, I'm a-tellin' you, a hard fighter, and
when he finds a still and squints down that old rifle of
his, the moonshiners jes know the game is up.
He has been in a couple of killings. Oncet with a
posse he went out to get some folks and he run plumb
into them while they were driving along the road in a
wagon. They opened fire right away. When the
smoke cleared away they were all killed or wounded
and the sheriff and his men were pretty badly singed
with the powder, but they hadn't even been scratched.
Another time he went out with the sheriff of another
county to raid a "blind tiger" and there was a lot of
shooting. In the middle of the fray he got a bullet in
the shoulder* but he kept on a-fightin' and a-firin', and
72 SERGEANT YORK
although wounded, he got the man that shot him and
also the other one.
Sheriff Livingston is a brave and a pretty old man,
but he has got a quiet voice and the softest eyes you
ever seed. You would never think he wotald harm
nobody nohow. But when you talk moonshiners to
him, he sorter rares up. He has got some of them in
his jail right now and one of his outhouses is plumb
full of captured stills and worms and all the other stuff
they use for making whiskey. He has to keep the
door locked, too, to keep the moonshiners from com-
ing right to the jail and stealing back their own stills,
ho ! ho 1 In the last twenty months he done captured
thirty-six stills, and I guess there is that many more
still operating. Moonshiners hain't never fired on him.
A few of them are bad, but they won't shoot it out
face to face. They prefer to waylay you in the bushes.
But there's only a few of them like that.
They make their stills out of copper sheeting which
they buy from the cities and then weld them together.
They often use old oil barrels, or two washtubs joined
together. Their worms are made out of copper pipes
which they also buy and then wind around stumps
until they get into correct shape. Some of them buy
copper radiators from the mail-order houses. Most
all the moonshiners are careless people and generally
get mash all over themselves, so you can smell the
stills for a mile. They put the most awful concoctions
into their whiskey. They generally operate their stills
away back in the woods where there is plenty of run*
ning water. They connect the worm to the still itself
and distil the whiskey into kegs or sealed jars, which
they put in water to keep them cool. They make most
of their moonshine out of the ground corn. Then they
add the malt and they call this mash. They put it in a
barrel and add warm water and let it stand until it
begins to work. Then they put in sugar and let it
stand again until it sours. Then they put it in the still
with a furnace under it and boil it. The steam escapes
out of the closed still and comes through the worm and
into the bucket or barrel. This is how the best and
the purest whiskey is made. But very little of it is as
good as this. Some moonshiners use concentrated lye
or tobacco, or anything else to make the whiskey
strong. Some put buckeyes into it, and that's plain
poison. One still Sheriff Livingston found with a
bunch of ivy tied into the cap. The moonshiner said
it would steam and drip and make the whiskey bead.
But the sheriff said it would poison the whiskey and
the moonshiner allowed you can't poison whiskey with
anything nohow. Well, the sheriff sent him to the
penitentiary for "a year and a day."
I guess that old sheriff knows what he's talkin 3 about.
He is the sheriff in one of the moonshiningest coun-
ties in the mountains; and that's our county, Fentress
County. So I admit that there is still plenty of moon-
shine and moonshiners in the mountains. But I ain't
a-goin' to admit that all mountaineers are moonshiners,
or that all mountaineers even drink whiskey. They
don't, but if you give a dog a bad name it's hard to
git rid of it, and that's how it is around here.
THE old-timers in these-here mountains sure must
have believed that "man cannot live by bread alone."
I mean whiskey alone, ho 1 ho ! They had to have reli-
gion aiid they done had it. But jes as they couldn't git
in over the bad roads and acrost the creeks to school,
they often couldn't git in to church. So the church had
to go to them. And it done went, at least the saddle-
I'm a-tellin' you that them-there old Presbyterian
and Methodist and Baptist preacher-men played a
right-smart part in civilizing the people of the moun-
tains. They were called saddlebaggers because of the
big saddlebags they carried on their horses. They
stuffed these bags with Bibles, song books, and reli-
gious magazines, which they sold or give out wherever
they done went. The people in the mountains thought
jes as much of their religion, and a little more, too,
than they thought of their fighting and hunting, and
they was most awful fond of them saddlebaggers.
The Scotch-Irish, Scotch Cavaliers, Lutherans, and
Huguenots who pioneered this country were most awful
religious people. But they believed in their own and
not in other people's gods. That's why they lit out
from the other side and come over here and t^kwsd Oft
to the wilderness ruther than to live in comfort in their
own homes. They knowed that over here they could
find that political and religious liberty they were look-
ing for. Even to this day you won't find many rosaries
or Episcopalian prayer books in these-here mountains,
and you won't find many rituals or liturgies either.
The mountain people don't like them nohow. They
don't permit anything except the Bible to stand be-
tween them and their God. They sorter like their
religion plain, like their ancestors did and like the old
But they were so busy fighting and making their
homes that they had no time nohow to do much preach-
ing themselves. Then the saddlebaggers come. They
was pioneers themselves, farmers, blacksmiths, gun-
smiths, and hunters. They was jes plain people, earn-
ing their living by the sweat of their brow. But they
felt the spirit of God telling them to go out among
their f ellowmen and preach His word. So of a Satur-
day and Sunday, and sometimes for weeks, they would
git in the saddle and stuff their old saddlebags full of
Bibles and hymn books and go a-ridin' through 'the
mountains. If there was mountain churches they would
hold their services there. If there was no churches
they would hold them in the schoolhouse ; and if there
was no schoolhouse they would hold them in the cab-
ins on the mountainside. Wherever they could get a
few people together they would have a preaching.
There was never a mountain cabin too far back for
them to call at. There was never a family too poor
for them to visit. They regarded all people alike as
7 6 SERGEANT YORK
the children of God and themselves as His blessed
They not only held meetings everywhere they went,
but they baptized and held marriage services and com-
forted the sick and buried the dead. They received
very little salary or none at all. Preaching was not a
profession or a business with them like it so often is
now. It was the work of God. They looked for-
ward to their reward in the next world. They was
good men, sincere preachers. They worked most hard.
They travelled through all sorts of weather, winter
and summer. They rode over the worstest roads, up
creek beds, over the mountains. They were greatly
loved and respected by all the people, and though they
never carried arms they were never touched. They
used to stay at whatever mountain cabin they arrived at
at nightfall, and they was always welcome, too. They
were close preachers; that is, they clung closer to the
word of God as it is written in the Bible than a coon to
a tree when a hound-dog has chased him up there*
They were what we would call fire-and-brimstone
preachers. They believed in the reward of heaven for
the good and the punishment of hell for the wicked.
And I'm a-tellin' you theirs was the finest heaven there
ever was and theirs was the worstest hclL They shore
knowed all about the pearly gates and the everlasting
There was many famous saddlebaggers riding cir-
cuits in these-here mountains. Jackie Brown was one
of them. He come from somewhere over in North
Carolina and sorter made his headquarters in our
ley, and from here he would ride out through the
mountains preaching and taking the word of God to
the f urtherest corners. Often he was the first preacher
that the settlers away back in the mountains had ever
seen. Sometimes he got so far back in that he found
people that had never even seed a Bible before. Oncet
at a famous meeting near Wolf River, in the valley, he
said he would be happy to die at any time if he thought
that by so doing he could save jes one lost souL He
meaned it, too, and the people listening knowed he
About seventeen years later another preacher man
named Bobby Burke come along with a new religion
of the Gospel of Sanctification. He converted Jackie
Brown to his new religion, and when Jackie was saved,
as he called it, he told the congregation that he was
awful glad that he hadn't died before, because if he
had done so he shure would have gone straight to hell.
Jackie was saved between the saddle and the ground,
so he used to say. It come to him sudden. He had
been to a meeting and heard Bobby Burke preach and
he was riding over to Jasper Pile's to get his dinner
when he felt the power moving him and he knowed he
was sanctified. He got off of his horse and laid on the
flat of his back on the dusty road and slapped his hands
and begun to holler. A man by the name of Jack
Frogge was going down the road at the time, and when
he saw Jackie Brown he thought it was some man
drunk or crazy, and so he takened out around the other
side and lit out for home and never stopped until he
78 SERGEANT YORK
When Jackie Brown got up he run his hands into
his pockets and pulled out his plug of tobacco and
throwed it into the woods, and then he done went
home to his farm, where he had half an acre of to-
bacco growing, and he takened a hoe and hacked it
down and threw it over the fence. He said if it was
not right for him to use tobacco it was not right for
him to grow it and sell it to other people. His neigh-
bours got after him and said that as he was poor he
should have kept the tobacco and marketed it. But
he said the Lord would not let him starve. They say
he become a most powerful fine preacher after he was
Another well-known saddlebagger was a man named
Adams. He was blind. He couldn't look out into the
world, but he declared he could look into people's
souls. He was much loved and respected, as he should
have been. They say that he was a Southerner and a
very wonderful fellow. At about the same time that
he was preachin' another saddlebagger by the name of
Sam Greer come into the valley. He was a North-
erner and a fire-eater. Long after the Civil War this-
here Greer and Adams come together at a revival
meeting on Wolf River. Sam Greer plumb forgot
that he was a preacher man and he lit into Adams
most awful for being a Rebel and a Southerner. So
you see that often these saddlebaggers were human
like most other people. They had their likes and dis-
likes. I'm a-thinking that is why they was so well re-
ceived and loved wherever they went.
The most famous of the saddlebaggers was Ab
Wright. There was a man for you ! He growed up
in our valley and rode through these-here mountains
for nigh onto fifty years. He is a-resting in his grave
now, but I'm a-telling you his memory still lives in the
hearts of the old-timers around here. They never tire
of talking about him and his wonderful sermons and
long rides and the great good he done.
Tennessee was a pretty tough place around seventy-
five year ago when he begun carrying the word of God
around. The roads were jes mountain trails. There
were few bridges. Towns and even mountain cabins
were a right-smart piece apart; and often Ab Wright
was out all night in the cold and the rain on the moun-
tainside. Agin and agin he was near drowned or
bewatered by some sudden rising of creek or river.
Oncet he was lost in the wilderness. He was not
like old Daniel Boone, who said he was never lost in
the forest but he was once bewildered for a few days.
He really was lost and he didn't know where he was
nohow, and he had to do a most awful lot of praying
before he found the road. Another time he was feed-
ing a large herd of cattle when he was gored by a
mad bull. It tossed him several times and he come
near to losing his life. And worst of all, he was bit
by a copperhead. He put his hand down in a sheaf of
oats and the serpent got him on the wrist. It made
him most awful sick, but he didn't lose his head. He
bound his wrist above the wound to keep the poison
from spreading, and then kept sucking the bite and
spitting out the poison until he was a heap better; but
jes the same he was not getting well nohow.
go SERGEANT YORK
In them days they didn't know much about snake
medicine, so they jes put another bandage on his arm,
tighter than the first, to make shore the poison
wouldn't spread. This bandage was so tight that it
kinder cut off circulation and his shoulder and neck be-
come so swollen that he couldn't hardly breathe ; and
then they begun to give him whiskey. That was about
the only remedy that the mountaineers knowed for
snake bite, and I guess hit was a pretty doubtful cure
at that. He drunk three pints of raw whiskey in a few
minutes, and then, so he said afterwards, he felt pretty
drowsy and went to sleep and while he was sleeping
the whiskey and the poison fought it out inside of him
and the whiskey won.
Next morning when he come to he was out of dan-
ger, but he shore was most awful sick from the snake
bite ho! ho! For three seasons after that in the
springtime, so he said, the bitten arm changed to the
color of a serpent and shed off the outside skin. But
he come round all right and was able to continue his
preaching to the end of his life.
Ab Wright was a most awful good man. He had
a good word to say for everybody, even for the crimi-
nals. Oncet he was praying with a condemned man
the whole of his last night on this earth. It was in
Jimtown. The man was James Calvin Logston. He
was sentenced to hang for killing two women and a
child with an axe- Ab Wright was with him most all
of the last twenty-four hours. He done went and
prayed with him in the cell and comforted him all he
could. Well, when they were ready to hang him they
put him in a shroud and placed him on a wagon with
his coffin. Ab Wright and the doctor set beside him,
and a heavy guard surrounded them all. They rode
to the gallows, singing hymns as they went. The death
warrant was read and Ab Wright preached the funeral
service. He must have converted the condemned man,
too, because after he done shaken hands with the
people he told them he done come to his end through
keeping bad company and warned them to keep away
from the like. Then they stringed him up, but the
rope broke and he fell to the ground. They got an-
other rope and placed it around his neck and he was
drawn up agin, but after a few moments the rope
broke agin and he fell to the ground for the second
time. Maybe they ought to have let him go then, but
they didn't. They jes lifted him up agin, and as they
done so he said a few words, but nobody knowed what
they was. This time the rope didn't break and he
hung twenty-five minutes and was pronounced dead.
All through this terrible time Ab Wright and some
other preacher men were there, singing hymns and
praying to the Lord.
In one year this most wonderful old saddlebagger
preached one hundred and eighty-one times, received
one hundred and five persons into the Church, prayed
with five hundred families, baptized fifty-four people
and travelled over two thousand miles on horseback
over the mountain country. He received no salary for
this and only took up a few bits of collections. And
during this year he had to look after his farm. That's
a preacher man for you. In his whole life he baptized
8a SERGEANT YORK
one thousand three hundred and twenty-three people,
married eighty-seven couples, and held six hundred and
eleven burial services. I know that our preacher men
to-day do a lot of work, and most of them are sincere
and godly men, but when I think of Ab Wright doing
all of this in the mountains years ago when travelling
was much harder and living was much worse than it is
to-day, and never caring nohow whether he got paid
or not, I kinder feel that him and the preacher men
like him was among the anointed of the Lord.
Pastor Pile Rosier Pile, we call him who keeps a
store to this day at Pall Mall and has a Sunday-school
class too, used to be a saddlebagger. He used to ride
through the mountains a-prayin' and holdin' meetings
and a-visitin'. And he never received no salary neither
and he didn't want none.
But jes like the feuds and the bushwhackers, these-
here grand old saddlebaggers of the past are disap-
pearing. Roads are coming into the mountains and
people can get into church, and even if they can't go
in they can build small churches a heap easier than be-
fore. So the preacher man on horseback with his sad-
dlebags full of Bibles and religious books is passing
out. There are a few of them left. These here mod-
ern times that are with us are sorter silencing "the
voice crying In the wilderness."
MOST all of the mountain people have jes natcherly
growed up with rifles. From the cradle they are sorter
used to the smell of powder and the presence of the
old muzzle-loader, powder horn, and doeskin shot
pouch hanging in a corner of the cabin. The moun-
taineer's arm has a sort of natural crook for an old
The rifle played a big part in the conquering and
developing of this-here mountain country. I ain't got
much poetry in me, but any I have I sorter spill out
on rifles and shooting and hunting. I am sorter used
to these things. I understand them. I know how to
make the most of them.
I am telling you I would much sooner take up my
muzzle-loader than a pen or pencil, and I am much
more useful with it, too. The early pioneers not only
knowed how to use their rifles, but they knowed how
to make them. The long-barrel, muzzle-loading type
of rifle made in the mountains of North Carolina, Ten-
nessee, and Kentucky was the best and most accurate-
shooting gun in the world, and up to one hundred yards
It still is. At the two last turkey-shooting matches
held in our valley, seven out of ten of the turkeys had
their heads busted with the muzzle-loaders and only
8 4 SERGEANT YORK
three with modern rifles. The distance was 'most al-
ways sixty yards, but the old muzzle-loaders also
brought down turkeys at one hundred fifty ^ yards, al-
though they are not so good as the modern rifle at that
Before the American pioneers made and sort of
perfected these-here muzzle-loaders there was really
no accurate rifle-guns in the world. The old flintlocks,
muskets, and blunderbusses which they used over there
in Europe were not much account nohow. They were
never sure of hittin' the mark. They were never even
sure of goin' off, and even when they did they made a
noise like a cannon. They often done more damage
to the shooter than to the one he was shootin' at. Most
often the powder flared back into the eyes of whoever
was squintin' down the barrel. Them-there guns might
have been all right over there on the other side where
a miss didn't matter so much and there was plenty of
time to reload and the more noise the better, but they
never would have got nothin' nohow over here. The
hunters who come into the American wilderness fightin'
Indians and shootin 5 game for food jes couldn't afford
to miss. They had to have a rifle-gun that they
knowed would shoot straight; that would shoot 'most
every time they fired it; that they could reload pretty
quick, and that wouldn't make too much noise for the
Indians to hear. They couldn't get these guns no-
where. There Weren't any. So they begun to make
them themselves. And they made the first accurate,
dependable guns in the world. I guess the first real
good guns that come down here to the mountains were
the Decherds and the Leamans. They were made up
in Pennsylvania, but soon the mountaineers begun to
get busy and made their own.
Most all around this-here moutain country there was
blacksmiths and gunsmiths in them-there days who
learned how to make rifles that jes knowed how to
shoot straight. To this day there are men who can
make them. And if you roam around for a while you
can still see the ruins of the crude old blast furnaces
they used. I spent a heap of my time as a boy black-
smithing with my father. I never made any guns but
I often doctored sick ones. I know the heap of trou-
ble and care you have to take when you are fooling
around with guns. And yet, these old Southern gun-
smiths with crude forges and cruder home-made equip-
ment turned out guns that served the purpose and were
in their time the best guns in the world and are even
now thought a heap of by our mountain marksmen.
These old mountain guns were made from ore dug out
of these-here mountains. Even the barrels were bored
or welded and then rifled on the ground. The trigger,
trigger guard, firing pan, flint chops, sights, and all the
other fittings were also made right in the mountains*
And the stock was generally carved out of grained and
seasoned woods, such as bird's-eye maple, or curly
cherry, or black walnut.
Some of the best known of these old mountain guns
were the Gibsons, Beans, or Duncans. Later on, of
course, the barrels and the locks were bought outside
and shipped in; and to-day nearly all the other parts
are bought and assembled. But jes the same there are
86 SERGEANT YORK
a heap of them old pioneer guns around, and there are
a few mountain gunsmiths still left who can turn them
out almost as good as ever. We don't use the flint-
locks to-day. Hit is too hard to keep them dry. Out
in the woods we always had to keep them covered with
a sort of sleeve which we slip over the barrel. This
sleeve was generally made from the skin of a steer or
a deer's leg. Armed with these old mountain guns,
not more than nine hundred mountain sharpshooters
whipped and shot to pieces Ferguson and his twenty-
six hundred trained men at King's Mountain. And it
was these same old guns which made it possible for the
six thousand men under Andrew Jackson down there at
New Orleans to stop ten thousand British soldiers who
once fought under Wellington and mussed up Na-
Allowing for the times and the conditions and the
purposes for which they were used, them-there native-
made guns were the best rifle-guns that was ever made.
I myself have used the Army service rifles and most of
the modern high-powered rifles, but when I go hunting
or take part in the shooting matches up to one hundred
or even up to one hundred and fifty yards I much pre-
fer my old muzzle-loading rifle-gun to any other in
the world, and that's what I think of it.
They are very cheap to keep up. Loading ain't no
bother if you know how. First of all, you stand the
old gun upright with the butt resting on the ground.
Then you pour the powder out of a powder hofn,
made from the horn of a buck or a steer, into the
charger, which is generally carved out of the tip of
ATYPICAL CREEK-BED ROAD IN THE MOUNTAINS
"And there were only mountain trails and old dirt roads, that
were no good nohow, and creek beds here before."
"We tie the turkeys behind logs with only their heads
showing and shoot off-hand; that is, from a standing position,
sixty yards away. We pay ten cents a shot and get the
turkey if we bust its head.
a buck's horn. The amount of powder you use, of
course, depends on the distance you expect to shoot.
Natcherly, a long shot takes a bigger charge of powder
than a short shot. You pour the powder out of the
charger down the muzzle of the gun. Many shooters
are so expert that they can measure off the powder in
the hollow of their hands and empty it into the muzzle,
scarcely losing a grain. Then the patch is placed over
the end of the muzzle. This-here patch is generally a
piece of blue denim or bed ticking and it is best when
it is greased or tallowed. The ball is then taken out
of the shot pouch, which is made of soft doeskin and
placed on top of the patch and pressed with the thumb
into the barrel. Then the ends of the patch are
trimmed off and the bullet and the patch are rammed
hard down against the powder. The ramrod is gen-
erally a straight piece of hickory whittled into shape.
A couple of whangs with this-here ramrod packs the
ball into place. The patch lies on top of the powder
and sorter packs the ball tight in the barrel so that
the explosion can't escape. Last of all, the little per-
cussion cap is put in place. Then the gun is ready for
firing. All this takes jes a short time. Many of the
old-timers can reload these old guns on the run.
Of course, if you're a hunter you have got to know
all about guns and how to handle them. Guns are
like hounds, they have a lot of this-here temperament,
and you have got to kinder get acquainted with them.
Sometimes you have got to kinder kid them. A gun
will shoot a certain way one day and altogether differ-
ent the next day. .You have got to -know whether they
88 SERGEANT YORK
shoot fine or full, or to the left or to the right; how
the wind affects them, and the sunlight and the clouds ;
even how they shoot on damp days and dry days. I
have a whole collection of them at home. I have an
automatic shotgun and a twenty-five-twenty rifle and
that old muzzle-loader of my father's. It's the cap-
and-ball type. My father done used it in the shooting
matches, and that's what I use it for now. It's a sure
gun for that sort of work. It jes don't know how to
miss nohow. And I have a forty-five pistol. I sure
would like to have the one I used in the fight with the
machine guns in the Argonne. I tried to get it. The
War Department searched through about fifty thou-
sand pistols for it, but I guess somebody got a-hold
of it and knowed it was a good one and decided to
I kinder think that the reason why the mountaineers
are among the best shots in the world is because they
fiave growed up with rifles. They know all about
them. They know how to take them to pieces and put
them together again. They know how to doctor them
when they're sick, and many of them even know how
to make them. I am a-telling you that's understanding
a gun. Then they are always using them out in the
woods shooting at all sorts of game. Of course, that's
great practice. Then 'most all of them live pretty
healthy outdoor lives and go in for regular hours,
natcheral food, and the right amount of sleep. So
their sight and their nerves are 'most always good.
And then there's the shooting matches which are
always very popular in the mountains. Busting a
turkey's head and cutting the centre of targets makes
for expert marksmanship. A right-smart heap of the
men who went to King's Mountain and whipped Fer-
guson went right from one of these-here shooting
matches. They were a-having a big time of it. They
were shooting for beeves and turkeys at a big match
at Gilbertown, N. C., when they received word from
Ferguson, telling them if they didn't lay down their
arms and return to their rightful allegiance he would
come over them-there hills and smash their settlements
and hang their leaders. They was jes about the best
shooters in the mountains and they went straight from
that shooting match and connected with the backwater
men and went up King's Mountain and showed Fergu-
son how American mountaineers, armed with Ameri-
can muzzle-loading rifle-guns, can shoot.
MOST every Saturday of late we have been holding
these old-fashioned shooting matches on a hillside on
my farm here in Pall Mall. Last Saturday we had
one. We usually shoot for turkeys and end up the day
with a beeve. We tie the turkeys behind logs with
only their heads showing and shoot offhand; that is,
standing up from a mark sixty yards away. We draw
for positions and then take our turn shooting. We
never know when the turkey is going to put his head
above the log, or how long he is going to keep it there,
or whether he is going to bob or weave just as you
have drawn a fine bead on him. He pleases himself
about that, and I am a-telling you a turkey gobbler tied
behind a log is sometimes the contrarinest bird I ever
knowed. He jes seems to know the right moment to
We generally pay ten cents a shot and we get the
turkey when we bust its head. Sometimes we do that
right smart and the owner of the turkey don't get much
out of it. Other times, when the wind and the light
are agin us, he will collect a heap of dimes before any-
body busts the turkey.
My father was p'int-blank certain death on turkeys'
heads. He jes didn't know how to miss them. He
really was a most wonderful shot. Often they ruled
SHOOTING MATCHES 91
him down ; that is, they made him shoot near the last,
and sometimes they would never let him shoot nohow.
They made him act as judge. I recollect a hill-billy
from one of the back creeks brought in oncet two big
turkey gobblers. He tried to raise a heap of money
on them by laying down unfair conditions, but the
mountaineers are pretty smart. They jes wouldn't
shoot. He brought the price down to a nickel a shot.
Still they wouldn't shoot. He had ruled my father out
but at last he let him in to sort of start things; and he
sure enough busted that old turkey's head the first
shot. The same sort of thing happened over the sec-
ond turkey, and my father had a pretty good day of
it two big turkey gobblers for ten cents. It is even
better sport to shoot at the turkey at one hundred and
fifty yards. We tie them to a stake out in the open
and from a standing position have to hit them above
the knee and below the gills. That's shooting too.
But the big event of these-here shooting matches is
the beeve. "Beeve" is jes plain mountain talk for beef,
and I guess 'most all over the world a beef means a
steer. The beef is driven alive to the shooting ground.
Its value is fixed by the owner, and then shots are sold
at so much each until the price is made up. If the beef
is worth fifty dollars generally fifty shots are sold at
one dollar each. The owner takes the money. Each
shooter can buy as many shots as he likes, but he has
to pay for each shot. The first and second prizes are
the hind quarters ; the second and third the fore quar-
ters ; and the fifth the hide and tallow. That is gen-
erally how they are divided up.
92 SERGEANT YORK
The mark to shoot at is the dead centre of a criss-
cross cut with a sharp knife on a board. Each shooter
generally prepares his own board, and he prepares it
according to his own liking. Some shooters blacken
their boards over a fire of grass and twigs, and then
put a little square of white paper either below or above
the centre of the criss-cross according to the way they
like to draw the bead. Others most like a plain white
board with a black mark either under or above the
centre of the criss-cross. The shooting is generally so
expert that you 'most always have to cut the centre;
that is, at least touch it with the bullet, if you hope to
even get a smell of the meat; and if you hope to win
one of the first choices, ho ! ho ! you generally have to
take the centre out, bust it right out; and that's got to
be a most powerful true shot. After each man shoots,
his board is initialled and held by the judge until the
prizes are settled. Often the shots are so close that
the bullet has to be cut in half and placed In 'the hole
and a compass used to determine which is the closest
shot. My father 'most always was a judge and used
to use the compass, and now that he is no more, my
brother Sam generally does it.
At the last shooting match we had a right-smart
crowd of mountain sharpshooters turn out. They
come in from all over the mountains. They come in
afoot, on horseback, in wagons, and in automobiles.
They come in from away back in the canebreaks, from
up the creeks, off the farms, and from the towns
around. They come in in their blue jeans and overalls
and all sorts of other shooting and business clothes.
SHOOTING MATCHES 93
They carried their old muzzle-loaders crooked under
their arms and their powder horns and pouches slung
over their shoulders. There must have been nearly a
hundred of them and they were 'most all of the best
shots around this-here part of Tennessee.
John Conatzer, a real hill-billy from back in the
mountains, come in and declared he was a-gomg to eat
turkey that night. He come in right off his little farm,
He was dressed in his old overalls, with big patches on
the knees and the elbows worn through. He had on
an old slouch hat that hadn't any shape nohow. He
had almost as much stubble on his chin as a wheat field
after the mowing machine has been over it. He wore
hobnail shoes and they shore give him a mean grip on
the ground. John is jes one of the meanest men in
all the mountains when it comes to drawing a fine bead
under the centre of a target, or busting a turkey's head
at 'most any distance. Winning the first prize is a sort
of habit with him. He lives right up on top of a moun-
tain, and he says it's that steep there he has to wear
hobnails in the seat of his britches.
John Souders, one of the best shots in all this part
of Tennessee, was on the ground early. He said he
kinder felt it was his day and them-there turkeys was
shore going home with him. I jes can't write well
enough to describe his get-up, but I'm a-telling you it
was even more artistic than John Conatzer's. Them-
there two mountaineers seem to be rivals in every-
thing, even in clothes, and they 'most always take meat
home with them. John Souders comes from up one of
the back creeks. Away in. He brought his old Dech-
94 SERGEANT YORK
erd with him ; the same sorter gun they used at King's
Mountain. It stands over six feet and weighs twenty
pounds. You can still see the hammer marks on the
barrel. It sure is an old-timer.
Ike Hatfield was there, too. He is a descendant of
the bushwhackers who raised Cain around these parts
in the Civil War, and he is also a relation of the Hat-
fields who kinder set the fashion for feuds over acrost
the line in Kentucky. Compared with Ike's eyesight,
an eagle can't see nothing nohow. He said he was all
p'int-blank fired up to bust them old gobblers' heads
and to put his bullet inside of anybody else's.
Sheriff Livingston come in with a big crowd from
Jimtown. He is well over sixty years of age, but there
ain't nothing the matter with his sight or with his
nerves neither. That-there old sheriff has raided more
moonshiners than has 'most anybody else in these
mountains. He's shot bigger game than turkeys, too.
He has more'n once killed his man. Whenever he
squints down the barrel of a gun, he is jes going to hit
plumb in the centre.
Several of my brothers was there Sam, toting my
father's old muzzle-loader, which is jes about the fa-
vourite gun around here; and Joe, who runs the store
at Wolf River; and George, who is jes the shootinest
fool when it comes to matches ; and Henry and Jim and
Albert. They was all there. And they was all most
awful keen on carrying off some of them-there prizes.
And I am a-telling you I was there and I jes knowed I
was a-going to have a turkey dinner that night, I was
jes in the right mood for it.
SHOOTING MATCHES 95
It was a most awful bad day for shooting. The
wind was a-blowing and there was a bright sunshine
and a blue sky with jes a few thin white clouds kinder
driftin' over. I was well down in the draw, so I jes set
down and took it easy and kept my nerve steady. I
felt plumb shore that I was going to get one of thern-
there turkeys. That-there first gobbler was jes the
boldest bird that I ever seed. He jes stuck that-there
red head of his up over the log and kinder looked
lazily around as though admiring the landscape. The
bullets of the first shooters pelted the log under him,
knocked the dust out of his gills, or went whizzing
past not a hair's breadth away, but not one of them
drew blood. He shore seemed to have a charmed life.
Every now and then he put his old head down to
kinder rest or gobble up something from the ground,
and then he kinder become interested agin and bobbed
up to see what it was all about.
When John Souders stepped up to shoot, with that
old Decherd of hisn I was even more interested than
the turkey. He shore must have wanted that turkey
most awful bad. He took a long time sighting, drew a
fine bead jes above the turkey's gills and then missed.
His bullet whanged right past that old gobbler's head
and cut up a streak of dust a few yards behind. I'm
a-tellin' you that-there old gobbler blinked.
That tickled John Conatzer. He said that he
knowed that the Lord Almighty was protecting that
turkey from harm until his turn come. He took even
a longer time than Souder. He jes stood there straight
and still with his old muzzle-loader pointing what
96 SERGEANT YORK
looked like p'int-blank death at the gobbler. He stood
there that long that it seemed that he would never fire
nohow. We all sort of got tired holding our breath.
Some of the other shooters tried to kid him, but they
might jes as well have tried to kid a coon down the tree
when the hound dogs are barking underneath. But in
spite of everything he missed too, but only by an eye-
lash. That old turkey was most awful close to being
cold meat when John's ball whizzed past.
By this time we was all gitting fired up. Two of
the best shots in the valley had fired and missed, and
we shore made life miserable for them. It was even
more miserable for them than for the turkey. That
old gobbler didn't seem to care nohow. He still kept
his old red head up, sorter challengin' like. Then
young Oliver Delk, who lives back up one of the
creeks, toed the mark. He looked pretty young and
didn't stand much higher'n the muzzle-loader itself.
We wasn't paying much attention to him and the
turkey wasn't either. We all kinder counted him out
as only a toFable shot. He fired and that-there old
turkey ducked, but he come up again right smart, bold
as ever. Ike Hatfield was so surprised he swallowed
his plug of home-twist and nearly had convulsions.
Oliver had scratched it acrost the head. The skin was
jes broken so he claimed it. The rules are that if you
draw blood it is your turkey. So young Oliver, as
proud as Solomon in all his glory, takened his turkey
and another was placed behind the log.
My brother Sam was next to shoot. He complained
that he had some dirt in his eye and that he couldn't
SHOOTING MATCHES 97
draw a fine bead nohow. Jes the same he shot so close
that I bet that new gobbler held his breath as Sam's
bullet went past.
I was feeling pretty good -when it come my turn.
I told them hill-billies around to watch me right close
and they would see what real shooting was. I looked
that old gobbler right in the eye and he seemed to me
to be looking right back at me and sorter challenged
me to put his head down. I drew a pretty fine bead
and allowed jes the least little bit for the wind. Then
I recollected the sun was shining from the right. I al-
lowed for that too. Then to make real sure I damped
I sighted carefully. Then I lowered the rifle and
told the boys that I could only have nicked him that
time and I wanted to do better'n that. I sighted again
and I figured on drilling him right through the head.
I could already see that turkey on the table at home
for supper. I drew even a finer bead and pressed the
trigger, but that-there old gobbler didn't go down.
He hadn't any sense nohow. A streak of dust spurted
up just behind his head, and I shore enough had missed,
ho 1 ho ! My brother George suggested that maybe the
bullet had bounced off of the gobbler's head, and John
Conatzer 'lowed that I was gittin' old and shaky any-
The next half-dozen shots also missed. That-there
sunshine and them-there little white clouds shore made
it bad for good shooting.
Mr. H. C. Cravens, who keeps a store in Jimtown,
got the next turkey. He busted it right through the
9 8 SERGEANT YORK
head and it never did know what hit it, unless it
thought it was struck by a bolt of lightning.
And, after some more missing, Allen Brooks got the
third. It was a plumb good shot, too. After that we
lengthened the distance. We tethered the next gob-
bler to a stake, away under the hill, one hundred and
fifty yards away. He shore looked pretty, too, strut-
ting around on the end of the string, with his feathers
kinder glistening in the sunlight, and his big red head
held proudly up, jes like a peacock's. But he didn't
stay up long. My brother George, who is the most
awfulest man on long-distance turkey shooting, come
up with that-there old muzzle-loading gun of my fa-
ther's. Some of the boys 'lowed that a hundred and
fifty yards was too far for that-there old hog rifle.
But George stood up there and hit that turkey that
hard it must have thought the hill had fallen on it. It
went right up in the air and then come down and
spread out all over the ground, stone dead. George
had shot it right through the breast with a hog rifle
at a hundred and fifty yards.
The turkeys were now going pretty fast. The boys
were getting their eyes in and were doing most won-
derful things with their rifles. The next turkey we
tethered somehow or other managed to get loose jes
as one of the boys was taking aim. We all laughed
and suggested that he ought to shoot it on the run,
but he put down his rifle, spit out a plug of tobacco,
and remarked that hit was hard enough to hit them-
there fool birds when they were still and they was
harder to hit than bats when they was moving*
SHOOTING MATCHES 99
So some of the boys lit out and chased that old tur-
key through the woods, and run it up against a fence
and brought it back to its rightful place, where it spent
the next few minutes kinder contentedly picking insects
off'n the ground. Some other shooters fired and
missed. Their bullets tore up the dirt around the tur-
key, but he was busy hunting his dinner and didn't
My turn come agin after a while and I was all fired
to make up for missing that first shot. I jes couldn't
figure on missing this time no way and nohow. I
squinted down the barrel of the old muzzle-loader and
I could see that turkey jes sorter on the end of it. I
drew a fine bead agin, allowed for windage and dis-
tances, and was jes going to pull the trigger when one
of thern : there hogs of mine that had been feeding on
acorns somewhere in the woods, santered right acrost
my field of fire.
That kinder tickled the crowd. If it had been a
razorback I would have let fly jes the same, but it was
one of my prize Poland Chinas, and though I wanted
that old turkey most awful bad, I sorter didn't want
to ruin the future prospects of that-there hog of mine.
I kinder figured I could have cut a couple of his bris-
tles and got the turkey the same, but it ain't natural
for a farmer to take chances with hogs, so I waited
until he had wandered on a piece, and then I took aim
agin and whanged a bullet right at that-there old gob-
bler. I guess I must have had one eye on the Poland
China because I shore missed that turkey by several
feet. I didn't even scare it. The bullet kicked up the
ioo SERGEANT YORK
dust somewhere between the turkey and the hog. So
you see, that time I might have been a bad turkey
shooter, but I was a most awful careful hog farmer.
The boys shot four turkeys in the next seven shots.
That's shootin', I'm a-tellin' you. We kept the last
one, a great big gobbler, the best of them all, for the
last shootin' of the day.
Then we made up the beeve. But this time the
beeve was a hog a two hundred forty pounder. He
was valued at twenty-four dollars and we paid fifty
cents a shot until the amount was made up. Now, to
me pork is right-smart better than turkey. Turkey is
dry meat anyway. I had missed the old gobblers, but
I thought I would get me that whole hog, so I bought
five shots. John Souders bought in, and John Conat-
zer, and my brothers George and Sam, and some of
the other best shots, too.
That shore was a mean day. Them-there experts
jes couldn't cut the centre out of their targets. They
laid a whole mess of balls within an eighth of an inch
of the centre, but that was not close enough to git the
meat. I was still feeling bad about the turkeys and
I wanted to git my whole five shots right through the
centre; I had done it before and I figured I could do
it agin. I figured on driving that hog home on the
hoof. That was a trick of my father's. He would
most often win all the prizes and drive the hog or beef
home alive. But, like the others, I got all around the
centre, but I couldn't cut it.
At last I put a ball inside of the other shots, it jes
broke the centre, and then that-there young stripling
SHOOTING MATCHES 101
of a Delk boy that had busted the turkey went and cut
the centre right out of his target and got first prize.
He was the shootinest shooter of the whole bunch that
day. I got second choice. They slaughtered and
dressed the hog on the spot and I picked me a nice
ham, which was not so bad after all.
John Conatzer didn't get none nohow, but he kinder
consoled himself by saying that the pork would be
sorter tough because It was killed in the soon of the
moon meaning, of course, when the moon was young.
That's a mountain superstition.
Then we went back to finish off that last gobbler.
He shore was the biggest one that ever come safely
through Thanksgiving Day. John Souders remarked
that he looked most as big as an ostrich. Jes as we
were all gittin' ready to let fly at that last gobbler, a
razorback sneaked in behind us and started in on
George's dead turkey, which he had throwed down on
the ground, and I am a-telling you, when George saw
that hog calmly eating up his bird he let out a whoop
like a red Indian. He started right after it, but the
hog wasn't willing to let go. He picked up the turkey
and lit out down the valley and over the hill and
George kept a-going after him, and we all whooped
and cheered, and finally George made a dive at the
hog and the three of them went down in a heap, and
there was feathers all over the place. But he got his
turkey back, and when he returned he remarked that
razorbacks never weren't good nohow.
Jes about this time Pastor Browne, who was holding
a revival service in Jimtown, come out in the field. He
is only a young man, but he looked jes like one of them-
thar old fire-eating pastors that used to preach fire and
brimstone through these mountains in the old times.
He was wearing a sort of square black hat and a sort
of squared-off black suit, and he has a kind of square
head and a square figure, and I guess he has a square
mind; I mean he squares it with the Bible. He is a
mighty powerful preacher and a right-smart pastor.
We invited him to bust the turkey's head. He
hadn't handled a rifle for eight years, but he said he
guessed he'd try. He wanted that turkey worser'n
any of us, he guessed. Like a real preacher-man, he
stood to one side and prayed to the Lord that if it was
His will he would most awful like to have that turkey.
He stepped right up to the mark, clapped the rifle to
his shoulder, and prayed agin and then fired, and
shore enough he busted the gobbler's head. It was the
best turkey gobbler of the day, and his shooting was
the straightest and the best, too. And when he got the
turkey he told us that he didn't even see its head when
he pointed the rifle. It was the prayer that done it.
He was sure of that and we 'lowed maybe he was right.
Then he started for home in a hurry. The last we
seed of him he was striding off acrost the hills, going
back to Jimtown to hold his revival services that night.
He looked about the happiest preacher man this side
of Paradise. He was swinging the old turkey gobbler
with one hand, and he was shouting praises to the
LARNIN' FROM NATURE
THERE are two kinds of larnin' the larnin' you git
out of books and the larnin' you pick up from living
close to nature. If you could only git both you shore
would be what they call educated. It's most hard,
though. If you get one you seldom get the other.
That's the way of things. Life's fair. There's a sort
of balance in things. The people In the towns and
cities get to larn from books and schools and people in
this-here mountain country sorter got to larn from
Larnin' to know trees and flowers and animals and
sunsets is like readin' a big book. You have kinder
got to go to school to understand that sort -of readin'.
I mean to a sort of outdoor school where you have got
to tramp round, hunting and shooting, and stay out and
use your eyes and your ears and your power of reason-
ing, too. What you pick up from these things sort of
larns you a most awful lot about life. What you pick
up from dogs and horses and foxes and squirrels and
coons and bees and hornets, and the little critters in the
earth, and most everything in the woods, helps you
understand people, too.
I've got a lot of dogs around my farm. I know
them and they know me. We kinder understand and
io 4 SERGEANT YORK
love each other. A few months ago a boy up in Jim-
town killed one of my dogs. I felt pretty bad about it.
I jes kinder moped around and missed that dog for a
considerable time. Oncet I had a coon dog that got
into the most rip-roarin' fight with a big coon. He
got scratched and beat up, but he stuck it out, and after
he whipped the coon he came to me all full of hurt and
wagged his tail and kinder twisted his bruised face into
a sort of human smile, and then I kinder got down be-
side him and petted and hugged him. I jes couldn't
And I have an English Walker. There is a dog for
you. He is pretty old now and getting grouchy but in
his younger days I knowed him to trail a fox for forty
hours without stopping. Then he'd come home, hun-
gry and lame and worn out, and he would stand up and
bark and whine and look at me with that knowing dog
look in his eyes as though wondering if I was approv-
ing of what he'd done. I've got a couple of Red Bones,
and when they git started after a fox they never stop.
I'm a-telling you, you can larn a heap from dogs, and
it makes you sort of more human to have them around.
Fox-hunting teaches you a lot. I ain't a-foolin* when
I say that quite a heap of foxes have got a right-srftart
more sense than many human beings. The tricks they
go in for to throw the hounds off the scent shore are
astonishing. They circle and come back over their old
trail. They go up creeks, jump from rock to rock,
and walk along fences and rocks. They go in for all
sorts of other contraptions; and they 'most always
come home, too. They jes sorter circle away around
LARNIN' FROM NATURE 105
for hours and sometimes for days, and then, sure
enough, if they can throw off the hounds they come
a-loping and a-sneaking back to their homes. Foxes
think a heap more of their homes than a lot of humans
I kinder like laying out under the trees watching
squirrels. They are the workinest animals. They are
never still. They are always up and a-doing, picking
nuts and whittling them to get the kernels out and
storing them away against bad times ; and feeding their
young ones and teaching them to cling to trees and
travel over the tops of the forests. They're kind of
impudent, too, the way they chatter and scold. Squir-
rels sure have a heap of confidence in themselves and
they're pretty tricky, too. They don't seem to mind
you watching them, but they sure know when you've
got a gun around.
But if you want to know what real courage and in-
dustry is, just tackle a hive of wild bees in a hollow
tree on the mountainside. Ho! ho! They're right-
smart soldiers and they're the fightinest things.
They're great believers in this-here "rights of self-
determination." When they come to swarming and
buzzing around it ain't nobody's business to be too
close. You may get the honey, but you're going to get
3 lot more, too, before the bees are finished with you.
They're most awful intelligent too. If a mouse gets
into their hive Ho ! ho ! They sting it to death and
then seal hit off ; that is, they seal it up in wax. They
shore have a whole heap of sense. And talk about
looking after their women folks 1 The way they fight
io6 SERGEANT YORK
and work for their queen is right smart. And when
you try to rob their hives, the way they will all get
around and try to hide her or get her away is a most
astonishing thing. Bees are the hardest working, fierc-
est fighting, and most home-loving and sensible things
in the forest.
There's a moth down here in the mountains that can
even out-smart the bees. Hit goes into their hives and
eats up the honey. That's looking for trouble,^ I'm
a-telling you. But hit does it jes the same. Hit spins a
sorter web around the entrance to the hive and gets in
without the bees being able to get at it. Once inside it
kinder webs itself off and eats up the honey; all of it
in time. And the bees either starve to death or swarm
somewhere else. That moth's what you might call a
genius. Ho! ho!
Coons are brave and good fighters, but they ain't
got so much sense. When the hounds git right after
them instead of dodging and doubling on their trail
and trying to hide away in the woods they climb plumb
up the first tree; and then you have got them. When
you cut the tree down, instead of trying to get away
they cling to it until it crashes, and then they do the
foolinest thing; they climb down the tree again to the
butt before they jump to the ground. They sorter
haven't realized that the tree is down, and that is jes
plain ignorance. The hounds have got more sense. As
soon as the tree falls they rush right to the butt ; they
jes know the coon is coming that way.
Hogs, too, ain't got over-much brains. They do the
craziest things. They let the dogs most often run
LARNIN* FROM NATURE 107
them into corners where they can scarcely turn around
and can't get away nohow, and when the dog gets hold
of them, they sorter stand there looking silly-like.
If you want to know what real happiness is jes wan-
der out into the woods of a moonlight night and listen
to the whipperwill singing. There is a bird for you,
always good-natured, always happy, as if always glad
for being borned. There is only one other bird that's
like it. Hit's the mocking bird. There is a bird with
a heap of sense and what you'd call imagination,
Hits always kinder f oolin' the other birds. There is
folks here who say a mocking bird can make almost
any sound and that sometimes they can whistle almost
like a man and that way fool a dog. I hain't never
heard them do that myself, but I have heard them imi-
tate other birds until you would think the forest was
plumb full of almost every kind of bird. Hit is no
ordinary bird that can do that, That's why I have
always kind of thought a mocking bird the queen of all
the birds in the forest.
You can larn a lot from birds and animals, but I
kinder think you can larn most from the soil itself.
I don't know much about philosophy. I am not certain
that I know what it is. But I'm a-telling you that you
do a heap of thinking about lots of things when you
are following a plough and turning over great rows of
all sorts of good soil. And somebody told me that
Bobby Burns, the Scotch poet, used to make up a lot
of his rhymes while ploughing and harrowing; so I
went and read me that one about the mouse. That's
poetry. Only a man who knows about the soil and the
io8 SERGEANT YORK
little critters In it could have written that. That's
what I mean.
I kinder think that even if you can't write poems
you can sorter think them; and when you're sitting on
a harvester with the ripe, golden-headed wheat stalks
waving at you and going down as you go along, your
mind sorter fills up and brims over, and all sorts of
beautiful thoughts kinder sing in your soul.
I guess we have all got a little of this-here poetry
in us and it takes old Mother Nature to bring it out.
That's the way with me anyhow.
I am most awful fond of the woods after it's been
raining. I like to stand in them and swing my arms
and take deep breaths. There's scents there that jes
make your soul bob with joy. And as for pictures, I
ain't never seen none that could come up to a sunset
in our valley, when the sky out there in the west is that
full of colours that you sorter get drunk on them. And
if you have never seen the woods when they are full
of moonlight, all sorter soft and milky, you ain't never
seen nothing nohow.
I am a-telling you you can larn a lot from nature.
I ain't an artist nor a poet nohow. I don't know much
about pictures and poems. I often don't understand
them when I read or see them. But I kinder got a
hankering after these-here natcherat things. I may
be all wrong, but somehow, way inside of me, I kinder
feel the best poems have never been written and never
will be, and I jes know the best pictures in the world'
can never be made with paints and brushes.
I have been a heap criticized for what I done when
LARNIN' FROM NATURE 109
I come back from the war ; for turning down all them-
there offers to go on the stage and into the movies and
in business. I knowed I was turning down fortunes, I
knowed I could never hope nohow to make a lot of
money like that agin. But I couldn't help it.
Even at that-there big banquet in New York City I
jes couldn't help thinking about them-there hound dogs
of mine. I kinder heard them baying and calling and
I couldn't get back to them quick enough. I seed the
lights of Broadway. I liked them. But I jes knowed
they didn't mean as much to me as the stars and the
moonlight and that-there little valley and the growin*
crops and woods and flowers at home. So I jes natch-
erly lit out on the first train.
I love being out-of-doors. I jes love it. I am used
to it, and all my people, way back to old Coonrod Pile,
and I am a-thinking away back beyond him too, loved
being out and f oolin' around where there was plenty of
room to move in. I suppose everybody jes has differ-
ent fancies. I ain't even questioning that. I ain't even
a-saying people are wrong for liking the cities and the
bright lights and the noises if they get the most en-
joyment out of them, it's all right with me. But I
don't. And so I turned my back on them; and I am
back here on the farm with my own people, in the
mountains I love. I jes couldn't hope to be happy if
I couldn't hunt and shoot and tramp around these-here
hills with them-there hound dogs of mine.
I have got five of them, three English hounds and
two Red Bones. The English hounds are good for
most anything you want them for. They're the most
no SERGEANT YORK
usable dogs. They're good for squirrels, coons, foxes,
razorbacks and even rabbits. The Red Bones are no
good for nothing except foxes. They won't yelp after
nothing but foxes, but once they pick up the scent they
sure will follow until they catch the animals, or get
them back into their den.
The best coon dogs, though, has got to be trained
for the job. They have got to be taught that they
must follow a scent without yelping, because if they
make a heap of noise the coon will hear them and keep
a-going and never come near enough to be treed. You
have got to understand dogs before you can get much
hunting out of them. You have got to understand
their ways and what they're good for, and you have
got to understand the habits of the things they're hunt-
To be a right-smart hunter you have got to know
not only about guns and hounds and woods and ani-
mals, but the right kind of clothes to wear. You have
got to be comfortable when you are in the woods or
tramping over the hills. You can't enjoy a hunt and
you can't shoot straight or keep up with the hounds
unless you are feeling all right. I have missed easy
shots from being wet through and cold when I should
not have been. And the wrong kind of socks or boots
have made me miss more'n one fox or coon. I 'most
always wear overalls and a hunting coat made of water-
proof ducking. I wear light leggings and light hob-
nail boots and a good shady hat.
My favourite hunting is after fox. I don't mean
riding the hounds. I mean following the hounds on
foot, or sort of going acrost the circle to where you
know they're most likely to be and getting them as they
go by. You have shore got to know the habits of
foxes and you have got to have good hounds and be a
fair-to-middling shot if you hope to have any sort of
success at this sort of sport.
We have two kinds of foxes here, the red and the
gray. The red will run for two or three days before
it circles back to Its den, but the gray ones only take
a few hours. When we go out after foxes we sorter
hike along until the dogs hit the trail. Then they
begin to bay. That's music, I'm a-telling you. We
then get on top of a ridge where we can sort of lo-
cate things. We can most always tell whether it's a
red or a gray fox by the size of the circle they're run-
ning. The gray keeps in kinder close, but the red goes
from mountain to mountain and on through the gaps
mile after mile. It shore takes a lot to tire them.
If we know it is a gray fox we go over on the edge
of the plantation or on a bluff. It has a habit of male-
ing for those sort of places. If it is a red one we hide
in the gaps in the mountains where we know it is most
sure to go. Them-there red foxes is runners. They
sure know how to wear the padding ofPn a hound's
feet and then lead him home all tired out. They sure
enough are "dog tired" when they run a red fox.
Foxes are very sly. They can see and smell a long
way, and if the hounds catch up with them they will
Coon-hunting is Viost always at night, A dark
night, or when there is about a quarter moon, is the
best. It is good sport, if you have the right kind of
dog. A coon lives in the woods, generally around
the heads of the hollows. He feeds on corn, acorns,
and chestnuts and the like. You take your coon dog
out in the hills and turn him loose and you seldom hear
of him again until he begins to bay. Then you know
he's treed a coon. If it is in small timber sometimes
you can shake the coon out and let him fight it out
with the dogs. A coon's a good, hard fighter, much
better'n a cat. It takes a right-smart dog to whip a
coon. If you can't shake him out you have got to get
busy with axe and saws and cut down the tree. That
is, of course, if you want the sport; but if you don't
care for the sport and only want the coon, you can
shoot him out; that is, if it is not too dark and you
can see him; and if it Is dark, you can get out your
electric pocket torch and shine the light around the
tree until it reflects in the coon's eyes. He 'most al-
ways is looking down at you or the dogs. Then you
can shoot with a fair chance of getting him. I have
often stayed out all night and slept under the tree. It
was too dark to see him and I didn't have a pocket
torch or an axe along with me, so I jes had to stay
with them dogs until the morning when it was light
again and I could get me the coon.
Mountain cats are right-smart fighters, too, but the
dogs don't seem to care. They rush in and soon kill
them. I have knowed some cats that weighed forty or
fifty pounds. I don't like cats. They ain't no sports
nohow and when they get after lambs and pigs they
shore cost a heap of money.
Hog-hunting is a favourite sport in the mountains.
I have been in a heap of wild-hog hunts. The wild
hogs around here are mostly domestic hogs that have
been turned out and have sorter gone back on their
kind. We keep hogs in the woods all the time. They
get fat on the acorns, beechnuts, hickory nuts, and
chestnuts. They jes grub around and find them or dig
them up and have a right-smart time. Sometimes as
many as fifty different fanners have their hogs running
n 4 SERGEANT YORK
In the same woods. We all mark them with our own
particular mark and fasten bells on straps around the
necks of the leaders.
When a hog goes wild his whole nature seems to
change. He lies up in the daytime and runs wild dur-
ing the night, which is jes the opposite to the tame
hogs. When we go hunting for them we trail them
with our dogs, and then when the dogs bay them we
go up and let loose a specially trained hound, which
gets them by the leg and holds them or even throws
them. I once knowed a dog, a sort of half bulldog he
was. He used to grip the hog by the nose and then
jes lie down. That shore was a sight and he wouldn't
let loose nohow. The fool old hog would jes stand
there and shake his head, and not know what to do.
Hogs shore ain't got much sense. We generally shoot
the wild hogs with our old muzzle-loaders. That's
why we call them hog rifles.
Squirrel-hunting is pretty good. It's best in the
fall when the woods is full of hickory .nuts. The best
way to get them is to locate your hickory trees, and
then go in among them early in the morning. You
have got to know how to slip in quietly and not disturb
a leaf or twig. You have got to understand, to know
the feel and sort of sense what I call the sounds of
the forest. And in the forest every sound, every flut-
ter of a leaf, every falling of a nut, every strip of
bark fluttering down, everything means something.
The forest has its own way of talking. It has a
language of its own, and the hunter jes has got to un-
derstand and learn that-there language, and he has
got to keep his eyes and ears open all the time, espe-
cially if he is out after squirrels. If you know these
things and act natcheral you can go right in among the
squirrels. I have seen as many as twenty in one tree.
They set up there on the branches, whittling the nuts.
They whittle off a hole and then they get the kernel
out. They eat mulberries, acorns, chestnuts, and beech
and hickory nuts. They eat the buckeye too. Part of
that is very poisonous, but I am a-telling you the squir-
rel knows that. He knows which part to eat and
which part to leave. Some animals shore have a lot
This country shore used to be full of deer, but they
have been 'most shot out and there are only a few
left. I have only shot a few deer, and I don't know
much about it.
I don't know much about baar-hunting either.
There's a few baars left, but they are back in the
mountains and it's hard to get at them. It's more
luck than skill, getting a baar in these mountains these
days. A few weeks ago one of our mountain boys was
driving a truck acrost a trestle bridge when he almost
run p'int-blank into a baar which was going acrost the
bridge from the other direction. That-there old baar
jes kept a-going on. Hit warn't scared of that-there
old motor truck nohow. So the boy went into reverse
and backed up and give that old baar the right-of-way.
That's sportsmanship for you. He jes warn't going
to run plumb into that old baar and probably go over
into the creek below* As he himself has said, baars
are scarce enough^ but if you have got the time and pa-
ii6 SERGEANT YORK
tience you can go into the mountains and get one, but
you can't get another truck that way nohow.
The most exciting sport of all is cutting down a bee
tree. I am a-telling you that's looking for punishment.
Some men can get along with bees. I can't nohow.
My brother Henry can handle them with his bare
hands and do 'most anything with them; and they very
rarely sting him, and when they do, it don't seem to
bother him much. But they sort of have a natcheral
dislike for me. They come at me right smart, and
they shore make me do all these-here funny dances all
over the mountain. Wild hogs are mean fighters and
they often kill our dogs. Baars have got a bad way
with them and coons and mountain cats ain't at all
sociable, but the worst of them all are them-there wild
bees. It kinder beats me how such a little critter can
do so much damage when he sorter backs up against
you and pushes.
But we mountain people are most fond of the honey
and we will go to any length to get it. We hunt the
wild bees jes like we hunt 'most any other animal, ex-
cept, of course, we don't use dogs. A dog has got even
less business than a human around a wild beehive. We
put out bee bait on the trees. We generally use burnt
sugar, or honey, or something else that's sweet. The
bees come along and get at it and then we try and
follow them up to their bee tree. They generally hive
in a big hollow tree on the high ground on top of a
Once we have the tree located we begin making
preparations. We sometimes get all dressed up.
wear bee bonnets, which are made out of something
like mosquito netting, draped down over our hats and
tucked into the collars of our coats. We wear gloves
and thick woollen socks, or leggings. But, somehow
or other, wild bees when you rob their hives know how
to penetrate most any clothing. They sure find the
open places, and then ho ! ho 1 But 'most all of the
mountain boys, though they don't like bee stings no-
how, generally go out without dressing in them-there
special clothes. But they sure take a lot of punish-
ment. My brother Sam tackled a hive oncet, and by
the time he had felled the tree he was so wet with
sweat that his clothes were jes clinging to him and the
bees most nigh drove him off before he could even get
near the honey.
The other night we cut down a bee tree and got one
of the biggest hauls of honey we have ever known.
We got out over two big bucketfuls, and there was
even more'n that spilt or mussed up. It was a great
big half-hollow oak tree on one of the mountains about
three miles through the woods. We had a most awful
time getting in over the rough places, sliding down
mountains and climbing up others, and getting all tan-
gled up in vines and thorny brushes. Jt was a very
tall tree. We sawed it down. We triecf to fall it on
a small cedar so as not to smash up the trunk and spill
the honey, but the cedar gave way, and that old tree
cracked up and there was honey and bees all over the
I kept well back and held the dog. I don't like bee
stings nohow. Besides, that-there dog thought it was
ii8 SERGEANT YORK
a coon tree and was rarin' to go. He would have
rushed in there and stuck his nose into the honey and
the bees would have stung every square inch of him.
It's right-smart funny, I am a-telling you, to^ see a
hound howling and prancing around, rubbing his nose
with his paws, but it's cruel jes the same, and it don't
do the hound no good nohow. So I clung to mine, and
later on I tied him to a sapling.
When the tree crashed the boys run along beside the
trunk until they located the hive. You couldn't miss it
nohow. It was jes a wild, mad swarm of mad bees,
and the sweetest, most golden honey you ever tasted.
My brother Henry turned in with his bare hands and
didn't seem to mind the bees nohow. My other broth-
ers, Jim and Sam, went in with him, but in a few min-
utes they come out again, and they agreed that bees
never was no good nohow. Jim was so badly stung
around the ankles that he couldn't get his shoes on
next day. Worse than. that, he was biting into a piece
of honeycomb and there was a bee in it and it bit him
on the end of the tongue and he hollered worse'n a
baar. Sam jes kinder sneaked out and got well out of
the firing line. He didn't want to admit that the bees
had whipped him, but they had jes the same.
But that-there Henry stayed with them. You could
hardly see him for the bees and honey. He filled him-
self full and said it was the best he had ever tasted.
Then he filled the buckets and the cans and a card-
board box, and there was a lot more running out and
jes as much was lost as was ketched. Henry always
kinder believed that when you are robbing a hive you
are safer in the swarm than on the outside. He says
the fighters always skirmish on the outside and go
right after anybody who's straggling around, but if
you are in among them, and especially if you have
honey on you, they won't touch you unless you happen
to squeeze or pinch them, and then they let fly with
them-there torpedoes. They crawled all over Henry
and he jes lightly brushed or pulled them off and kept
right on after the honey. And then he poked about
among the bees looking for the queen. That stirred
them up, but he didn't seem to mind. That-there
Henry is the f oolishest man that ever took honey out
of a hive. He don't seem to mind bees at all, and
their stings don't seem to bother him nohow.
After they had kinder recovered from the effects of
the first attack, Jim and Sam sorter slunk back in
among them, but their confidence was sorter ruined.
It don't take many bee stings to do that. But no
stings no honey, and they wanted more honey, and
they got it, and everything else that went with it. In
the evening we carried those old buckets and cans full
of honey back home. The next day we went out and
rounded up the bees. We wanted to take them home,
too. We took a gum along with us. That is a sort
of box-shaped beehive. We looked around for the
queen, to put her in the gum, but them-there bees sure
were on the warpath and we couldn't find her nohow.
We put some of the comb we had left in the box and
let it stand there and went away and when we come
120 SERGEANT YORK
back again they was swarming in the box and we was
able to take them home and they're on the farm now.
Bees sure have a lot of sense.
So I have growed up hunting and shooting and larn-
Ing a few of the secrets of nature in these forests and
mountains. And I'm a-telling you, you can larn a lot
I WAS borned in Pall Mall, in Fentress County* Hit
is under the mountain; that is to say, in the valley
below. Hit is called the Valley of the Three Forks of
the Wolf, because Wolf River forks into three
branches not far from our home. Hit is in the Cum-
berland Mountains, in the eastern part of middle Ten-
nessee, not far from the Kentucky line. I was borned
in a one-room log cabin with puncheon floors, and the
walls made of rough-hewn slabs. These walls was
chinked with bark and mud, but jes the same, in the
winter time the wind would whistle in through the
walls and up through the cracks in the floor. Some of
them-there floor cracks were so big we could look and
see the chickens and pigs underneath.
I was the third in a family of eleven children, eight
boys and three girls. Most all of them were big and
red-headed; and I was borned and growed up the big-
gest of them all. There was a whole litter of us and
we jes sort of growed up like a lot of little pigs. I
don't mean we was allowed to be dirty like pigs. I jes
sorter mean that we were 'most always turned loose
out-of-doors on the mountainside, kinder running wild,
playing and hunting around. We was sort of brung
up by the hair of the head.
122 SERGEANT YORK
We weren't pampered. Mother and Father hadn't
any time to pamper us. They was most awful hard-
working people. They had to be to bring up eleven
children like they did. Father was a blacksmith. His
shop was in a cave or rockhouse, as we called it, at the
head of the spring on the mountainside, just near our
home. He knowed wonderful well how to handle
mares and horses and never refused even the meanest
of them. Some of the mules was most awful, but my
father never backed up on them. I am telling you that
shows character. But money was scarce in them times
and he never made more than about fifty cents a day.
I don't mean to say he averaged that much. He didn't.
He was so fond of hunting that he would neglect his
blacksmithing and go out over the hills for days to
get him some deer or some turkeys. But he wasn't
lazy and like the rest of us boys it wasn't natcheral for
him to resist the baying of the hounds and the call of
the woods. I guess weVe got it in the blood. He was
a right-smart woodsman. He could follow a trail any-
where, or go out through the wildest country on the
darkest nights, and never get lost for a minute. He
was the best shot in the mountains. Often I have seed
him take the centre out of a target, shot after shot. I
have seed him fire a dozen times at a target and put
most all of the bullets through the same hole.
We most always had plenty of fresh meat from my
father's rifle-gun. But jes the same, we was always
poor. Mother used to hire out and work at other
places, washing, spinning or weaving, or doing chores.
She would earn about twenty-five cents a day.
So we growed up. We had our own log cabin and
a little land. We raised chickens and hogs and some
corn and we had a couple of cows and a whole heap
of fresh air and plenty of room outside, but not much
inside the cabin. Eleven children and mother and
father take up a most awful lot of room, and that little
one-room log cabin was kinder crowded at night, when
we were all tucked in ; but we was all under one roof,
growing up good, strong, and healthy, and loving each
other. Jes a mountain family. We children would all
lie in bed, tucked in for the night. Mother would sit
in front of the big open fire carding, or spinning, or
weaving; and Father would sit in the corner in the
light of a lantern or a grease lamp and clean and mend
his guns; and that's the way we growed up*
We shore were pretty rough scrappers, and among
ourselves and with the neighbours' kids we used to
fight right sharp. Of course, a whole heap of children
like that will get up to all sorts of mischief, but Mother
jes knowed where the most stinging hickory sticks
growed and Father had a mule whip, and they both
knowed how to use them. I guess the reason I growed
up so big was that I was such a roughneck and Father
had to whip me so much that he sorter kept my hide
loose so that I could fill out. When I was sixteen I
was nearly six feet tall and weighed one hundred and
Of course, they wanted us to go to school and we
was most all anxious to get some larnin'. But we were
very poor, and 'most all the other mountain people
were poor too, and there was only money enough for
124 SERGEANT YORK
the school to keep going about two and a half months
each year, and that was in the middle of summer. It
was too cold in the wintertime. The roads were bad.
There were no bridges over the creeks and we couldn't
get acrost; and we couldn't afford warm clothes
neither. And even in the summertime they had to
dismiss school for two or three weeks for crops and
foddering. I went for about three weeks a year for
about five years. I larned to read and write. I had
about a second-grade education. I don't think I could
have passed the second grade. The schoolhouse was
a little frame one-room building over on the hill.
There were about one hundred pupils and only one
teacher. We used to sit on benches made out of split
logs with two pegs mortised in them. The benches
had no backs. They were so high that when I used to
sit on them I could scarcely touch the floor with my
feet. During the last year we had two or three desks.
I never read no books till I was about twenty years
of age. Then I read only one and that was the life
of Frank and Jesse James.
I begun to work almost as soon as I could walk-
At first I would help Mother around the house, carry-
ing water, getting a little stovewood, and carrying
and nursing the other children to keep them from
yelling around after Mother while she was trying to
get a bite of dinner for us all. I would go out to the
field with Father before I was six years old. I would
have to chop the weeds out of the corn. Father would
be ploughing with the old mule, and I and my brothers
would follow after until he was out of sight, and then
BOYHOOD . 125
we would steal off and play and scrap around; and then
when we would get home he would give us some hick-
ory tea, as he called It.
And it didn't take much of it to make a fellow wish
there never was no hickory in these-here mountains.
Our clothes was very poor. When I first went to
school I wore a home-made linsey dress, and I guess
I worned it that long it couldn't stay on me no longer
nohow, and jes dropped off as if by Itself. As I
growed older and larger Mother would get some
clothes from the neighbours, old ones for washings
she done for them, to make us boys britches and coats
to keep us warm in the winter months. We had clean
cotton shirts which we were only allowed to wear on
Sunday mornings, but we had no coats. I shore do
remember the kind of shoes we wore in the winter-
time. Father made them. They was brogan shoes
with brass on the toes, and when we would get up in
the morning our shoes would be cold and stiff and we
would have to warm them around the old log fire
before we could put them on. They were most awful
hard and stiff and would take the hide off our heels and
they slipped up and down when we walked.
When I was sixteen Mother went to the little coun-
try store and bought me a pair of dress shoes. I called
them Sunday shoes, for I only wore them on Sunday,
They were number ten men's shoes. They were the
first dress shoes I ever had. I was most awful proud
of them. The next Sunday morning Mother and I
started to the little church meeting. Of course, I put
on the new shoes. I shore felt good in them. I kept
126 SERGEANT YORK
looking down at them, and I kinder thought that
everybody else was admiring them. Before I got to
church it come up a rain and got muddy and the red
clay was very tough and pulled off one of the heels.
I scraped in the mud, got It, and put it in my front
pants pocket. I kept on a-going with one heel on and
one off. When I got almost to the church the other
heel come off and I got it and put it in my other front
pocket. My, what trouble I was in my first pair of
Sunday shoes and both heels off before I got to church
where I could really show them off and I had no
coat and my shirt was all wet and muddy too ! And
there was a girl friend there that I kinder admired.
So there I was with my first pair of Sunday shoes and
my first time to wear them, and this trouble had to
come, and I was slipping all over the road with those
number tens with no heels on them, and that shore
spoiled the pleasure of the day.
As I growed up I begun to look around for some
work, but there wasn't much of it in the little valley.
Father took me into the rockhouse, where I helped
him to blacksmith. He taught me to handle them-
there mules and not to back up on them. I got to know
horses and mules right smart, and I picked up the
blacksmith business. But I most loved getting out
with Father to help him shoot. We would hunt the
red and gray foxes in the daytime and skunks, pos-
sums, and coons after dark. Often we would hunt
all day and do the blacksmithing at night. I did a
heap of farming too. I worked for Mr. E. J. Wil-
liams and others for forty cents a day.
In 1911 my dear father takened sick and died of
typhoid fever. He was kicked most awful bad by a
mule he was trying to shoe. She lashed out and got
him. She was the only one that ever out-smarted him.
She would not have done it nohow, only he didn't
know she was mean. He was most awful sick for
some time and I think it led up to his death.
That left my mother with a family of eleven small
children. Although I was only a young boy, I had
to go out and work with the men to help support
Mother and the smaller children.
H OG- WILD
AFTER my father died in 1911 I sorter went to
pieces for a few years. I know I shouldn't have. I
ought to have hewed to the line closer than ever, but
I didn't. I was at that age, too, when a young man
thinks that it's right smart to drink and cuss and fight
and tear things up. I sort of felt that that was the
right-smart way to come into my manhood. And com-
ing into your manhood is like suddenly coming into a
lot of riches you may not appreciate it at first, and
sorter squander it.
I begun to drink and gamble jes a little at the start,
but it growed on me. I got in with a crowd of gay
fellows and before long I sure was drifting. There
was plenty of liquor around. It was very cheap ; about
sixty-five cents or seventy-five cents a quart* Poker
and other gambling games were pretty popular, and
smoking and chewing was supposed to be the thing.
I was a big fellow, strong and hard, too, from black-
smithing and farming and hunting. I didn't know my
own strength. I thought I could whip anybody.
At the beginning we used to have a few drinks of
a week-end and sit up nights, gambling our money
away; and of course, like most of the others, I was
always smoking and cussing. I don't think I was
HOG-WILD !2 9
mean and bad; I was jes kinder careless. But the
habits grew stronger on me. Sorter like the water that
runs down a hill at first it makes the ravine, and then
the ravine takes control of the water that's the way
it was with me. I jes played with these things at first,
and then they got a-hold of me and began to play with
my life. I went from bad to worse. I began really
to like liquor and gambling, and I was 'most always
spoiling for a fight.
There was a bunch of us. There was Everett Delk,
Marion Leffew and Marion Delk, who is dead now,
and a couple of my brothers. We were a wild crowd;
wilder than wild bees when they're swarming. Of a
week-end we would go across the Kentucky line and
get drunk and look for trouble, and we shore enough
Back in the days before the World War the Ken-
tucky-Tennessee state line was a tough place. There
were drinking shacks, "blind tigers" we used to call
them, 'most every few miles. I am a-telling you
Sodom and Gomorrah might have been bigger places,
but they weren't any worse. Killings were a-plenty.
They used to say that they used to shoot fellows jes
to see them kick. Knife fights and shooting were
common, gambling and drinking were commoner, and
lots of careless girls jes used to sorter drift in. It
shore was tough. They used to build these wooden
shacks right on the line, half in one state and half
in the other. If you come from Tennessee and wanted
to buy liquor and booze you went across to the Ken-
tucky part of the building. If you come from Ken-
i 3 o SERGEANT YORK
tucky you crossed over to the Tennessee side. That
was to befool the law and sorter protect yourselves
and the people who were running the places. We
used to go over there 'most every week-end and^ after
we was filled up with liquor we would go back in the
trees and gamble and roam around, or go dancing and
looking for trouble.
The liquor we used to drink in those days was most
often jes plain Tennessee or Kentucky moonshine.
That's powerful liquor. There was plenty of it; and
we jes natcherly knowed how to put it away. We
would often drink over a quart each a night, and two
or three quarts each over a week-end. That's a lot
of liquor. We used to think it right smart to drink
each other down.
I ricollect oncet a bunch of us got us each a quart
of moonshine whiskey and a quart of apple brandy,
and we had a sorter drinking bout. We would drink
so long as we could stand up, but when we fell over
or passed out we would what you might call disqualify.
The one who drunk the most and stayed on his feet
the longest got all of the liquor that was left. We
bought the liquor at Ball Rock, which is right on the
line, and then we corne back around Caney Creek and
went to it.
There were six of us and we shore put away a lot
of that-there liquor. My brothers Henry and Albert
didn't last long. They each put away about three
quarters of that apple brandy, and that was the end
of them. Everett Delk and me guzzled up a quart
each, and then I am a-telling you we were rarin' to go.
HOG-WILD i 3I
We started out for Jim Crabtree's house. There was
some right-smart girls there; fine girls and good-
looking too. And though we could hardly stand no-
how, we kinder thought we would like to have a little
dance with them. We crossed over through a sage
field and drunk some more liquor. I guess that old
field was pretty flat country, but it seems most awful
hilly to me. I knowed I was a-going ; and sure enough,
another drink and I was flat on my back; but Everett
kept a-going and a-drmking.
He went to the house and swallowed a most awful
lot of buttermilk, which sorter brought him around.
He then went back around the field and collected up
all the liquor that was left and took it back to the
house and hid it upstairs. Then he kinder kicked and
shook us awake. We was scattered here and yonder,
jes wherever we give* up. We began to come to and
go into the house all the way from seven o'clock till
midnight. Next morning we didn't none of us know
what we had done with our whiskey. We thought we
drunk it all. We felt like it, too. But Everett went
upstairs and got it and we went to it again. That
was the kind of drinking we used to do.
Another time we had to light out from home and
go over near the state line and hide us from the grand
jury which was after us. They wanted us for liquoring
up and fighting and carrying weapons. They didn't
have any specific charges against us. They jes wanted
to get us before them and question us. And we jes
knowed if they ever got us before them and got to
questioning us we shore would give each other away
and be indicted So we went over there near the line
and jes drinked and gambled and played around until
it kinder blew over.
Once they got me for being mixed up in carrying
and selling a weapon. I used to always tote a gun
around with me and a knife, too. I went before the
jury and got out of it right smart. I pleaded my own
case and proved to them that it was not my gun, that
I was jes delivering it for somebody else. But hit
shore was close and they come near getting me. An-
other time I was riding home on a mule, drunk as a
saloon fly, and sorter wanting to shoot things up. It
was in the very early morning. I saw some turkey
gobblers sitting on the fence and up in a tree. I had a
pistol with me. I jes couldn't resist seeing if my nerve
was all right. I jes fired six shots from a long way
off, and the air was full of feathers, and there was six
dead turkeys stretched out on the ground. Now that
was one time that my marksmanship got me in bad.
I was brung up before the court, but was able to buy
out of it. Turkeys are pretty valuable around our
way, especially when it's near Thanksgiving, and it's
a pretty serious offence to muss them up.
Once Everett and I were full of booze and riding
home on the same mule, both of us, one behind the
other. How we done it I don't know; neither of us
could sit up straight. But we done done it. In the
darkness we saw something white sorter floating on
Caney Creek. Everett thought it was a white pillow,
and I didn't know what it was. We were that full that
we couldn't see straight, , I got out the old gun again
and let fly and we heard an awful squawking and flut-
tering about In the water, and whatever it was begun
to float off. Everett went down to investigate* He
said there was feathers and blood all over the water.
Then we knowed I had killed a tame goose. I had
shot it plumb through the breast. So we thought we
had better get out while the going was good, and we
did. It was Mr. Moody's goose, and I guess he
doesn't know to this day who it was that bumped it off.
Not having no money never bothered us much. We
could make it all right at shooting matches. I sure
could bust a turkey's head at 'most any distance and
cut the centre out of a target and win the prize money
'most any time. I used to do the shooting and Everett
would do the betting and then when we won we would
buy us some more liquor.
I am a-telling you I kept going from bad to worse,
drinking more and more, and gambling whenever I
had the chance or the money, and fighting a whole
heap. I was never oncet whipped or knocked off my
feet. I jes kinder thought I could whip the world and
more than oncet I set out to do it.
I was in a couple of shooting frays too. You see
the only book I had read was the life of Frank and
Jesse James. It made a big impression on me. I used
to practise and practise to shoot like them James boys*
I used to get on my mule and gallop around and shoot
from either hand and pump bullet after bullet in the
same hole. I used to even throw the pistol from hand
to hand and shoot jes as accurate. I could take that
old pistol and knock off a lizard's or a squirrel's head
134 SERGEANT YORK
from that far off that you could scarcely see it. So
you see I was kinder handy when it come to hitting
the mark. I never did kill nobody. I never did really
fire at anybody; that is, not to hit them. I often shot
a few bullets in their direction to frighten them off.
Once we hired to a fellow to take some cattle from
Wolf River to Chanute. We got four dollars for
that. So we took it to Lick Creek and bought us that
much whiskey. That was enough to make us pretty
full. We was riding along on our mules and we met
up with Will Huff, and we decided to have some fun
with him. I got out my little pearl-handle revolver
and began to shoot at the ground underneath his
mule's belly. That sorter knocked the rocks loose and
they flew up and hit the mule and it got to bucking
and throwed Will off. He was not hurt, but he was
most awful mad.
Then we got to firing under my mule and it bucked
me off. I was that wobbly I couldn't sit straight and
I jes sorter fell off, and I lay where I fell, too*
Everett got him a paling off'n the fence and proceeded
to bring me around by slapping me with that old
wooden paling. I come to and, thinking somebody was
after me, I jumped on the old mule and galloped like
an express train through the trees. I guess an express
train couldn't have catched me. I lost my hat, but
I kept on a-going, shooting and hollering and cussing
as I rode. After a few miles I fell off and went to
I got into a knife fight, too, with one of the boys
in our valley. It was on a Sunday morning afteir
church and that made It worse. We were both full
of moonshine and that started it. We sure would
have cut each other up, but some of the other boys
got between us and separated us. It was over a girl.
I am a-telling you that wine and women make a bad
Then there was a fellow named Maxey. We had
a most awful argument down at a stave mill, and he
said next time we met he was going to get me. A
few days later I decided to wait for him on the road
and run him off. So when he come along I fired a
few shots near his feet, and knocked up the dust, and
told him to go ; and he done went, too. I never seed
I ain't a-boasting of these days. I am kinder
ashamed of them now. They was most awful bad.
They couldn't have been worser without me killing or
hurting somebody; but I never did that. I did enough
just the same. I drunk liquor whenever I could get it.
I was drunk 'most every week-end. I gambled away
most of my hard-earned money. I was always chew-
ing and cussing. I was always wanting to whip some-
I am a-saying again that old Kentucky line was a
tough place, and the boys around there was tough too,
tougher than hickory ; and I was one of them. I was
always in trouble, or looking for trouble, and it looked
as if sooner or later I would get it and get it right
I was hog-wild.
'MOST like all boys, I think my mother wa,:> LUC
mother in all the world. I jes think so much of her
that I don't know how to say what I want to say. I
guess sometimes you can feel things so deep you are
sorter lost for words to express them.
We mountain people are pretty clannish ; that's the
Scotch-Irish blood in us. We sorter hang together,
'most like bees when they are swarming. I sometimes
think that our feelings are nearer the surface than
they are in 'most all city people. We don't try to
keep them down. We let them go. When we love
we love right out, and we ain't ashamed of it, and
when we hate it takes a lot to make us forgive and
Both my father and mother were honest, God-fear-
ing people, and they did their best to bring us up that
way. They didn't drink, or swear, or smoke them-
selves, and they didn't believe in us doing those things.
They didn't have no use nohow for people who told
lies or broke promises. They believed in being
straight out and aboveboard. I'm a-telling you they
honoured the truth so much that they wouldn't hide it
nohow for nobody even if they was to suffer an awful
I have told about my father. It was sorter easy
for me to talk about guns and hounds and horses and
all those things he loved and taught me to love.
Hit's different talking about Mother, but I jes got to.
Her story is jes sorter mixed up with mine and mine
with hers, and I can't jes tell where one ends and the
other begins, and I can't look into my own life nohow
without finding her always mixed up with my affairs.
And always for the better. I have generally taken her
advice as being most helpful. When I have failed to
do it, I have 'most always got into a heap of trouble.
I can't remember us ever having a short word.
She has sort of been through everything. She has
had 'most all the trials and tribulations they write
about in the Scriptures. She has always had to work
hard, and she says that is why she has always been
happy. I guess she has never really had time to be
unhappy. I am a-thinking that she sorter knows what
life's all about. Long ago she had come through most
all of the fool notions, and she sorter understands now.
When her father, William Brooks, was killed by
the bushwhackers in Jamestown, she was jes a little
baby in her mother's arms. Her brother was not
borned then. He come into the world a few months
afterwards. The three of them went on through life
clinging to each other jes like a three-leaf clover.
My grandmother never married again. She jes went
back to her people in the valley and give her whole
life to bringing up her babies. She had to be both
mother and father to them. Maybe it's because my
mother never had a father she growed up so inde-
i 3 8 SERGEANT YORK
pendent and strong-willed and knowing. She had to
larn to look after herself without a father and to find
out heaps of things alone.
There was no man-person at the house and they
all had to work, and her little brother was sickly at
first. She went to school and larned how to read and
write and that was about all. She never read no other
books but the Bible. She larned to card and ^ spin
and weave and knit and to make clothes. She milked
the cows and even larned how to plough. She used to
hitch up the horses and go out into the field and do
a good day's work. She had some cattle of her
mother's, and she often used to go out in the fields
and hitch them to logs and do her share of hauling.
She worked right smart from her girlhood up.
She must have been full of life, too. I'm a-telling
you she still is. She used to go in for all the goings-on
in the valley. In those old days there was a lot of
this what you would call community spirit. If a
couple would marry and wanted to set up for them-
selves, or if some strangers come in and takened up
some land, most all of the mountain people around
would turn out and give them a good start. There
would be log-rollings and house-raisings. The men
would do that. They would come from all around
and cut the timber and roll in the logs and clear up
the brush and burn it off, so that the new settlers
would have some good crop land. Then they would
build them a home, a regular log cabin ; and while they
was doing this, the women folk would get together
and do a right-smart piece of quilting. That is,
would cut and sew and make quilts and other things
for the new couple to help begin a home.
And after the day's work was done they would all
get together and dance on the new puncheon floor.
They would often dance all night, them square dances
with banjo music and fiddles. They jes paired up
and hit the floor, the young and old, married and
single, and all. The men sometimes would drink a
little hard cider and liquor but they seldom got drunk.
Then there were corn-shuckings too. Somebody
would put up a crib of corn and maybe put a bottle
of liquor in the centre. The men folks would come in
from all around and shuck until they got right in the
centre where the liquor was. Then there would be
some drinking, and after that there would be some
dancing. In them days they all worked hard from
sunup to sundown ; and they knowed how to play, too.
Their enjoyments might be different from ours, but
they was kinder wholesome and sorter fitted in with
this-here mountain life.
Roads were bad in them times and travelling was
hard. Anyone who went into Jimtown more'n once a
month was considered to be a regular gad-about. The
first time my mother ever went Into Jimtown she drove
a yoke of cattle with a load of fodder. It was a little
place then, but it was a new world for her, for she
had been used only to the little mountain place. They
used to raise sorghum cane in them days and grind
the stalks into molasses and cut the heads ofi, and
then they would take them heads that was left and
fill up the bottom of the cart and then pile up bundles
140 SERGEANT YORK
of fodder on top until the cart was full. It was a
load like this that she took Into Jimtown.
Mother and Father most growed up together.
They both lived In this-here valley. They first got to
going together when my father decided to move
house and Mother did the moving for him. This was
long before they were married* They was both most
young then. She took her cattle and wagon and went
and moved him from off the mountain where he was
living to his new place, which was within shouting dis-
tance of her own home. She drove the oxen and he
walked along the road, toting a rifle, with a dog fol-
lowing him. That was the beginning of it.
They had to run off to be married. You see her
people were opposed to him- They jes couldn't see
him nohow, so they went and eloped. They ran
across the mountains to her uncle's. He was a squire
and in them days the squire could issue a licence and
marry people himself. He married them. Mother's
wedding dress was made of mixed linsey. She spun
the wool, wove the cloth, and made the dress herself.
They stayed over at her uncle's for a week. They,
spent their honeymoon helping the old people. Then
when they kinder figured that Grandmother had got
over her fractiousness, they returned.
About a year later Father built the log house at
the spring, and that's where most all of us were
borned and growed up. The children kept coming
right smart until there were eleven of us. Mother
had to work hard from sunup often until ten o'clock
at night to keep us clothed and fed. Of course,
Father had his blacksmithing and was the head of the
house, but thirteen's a big family, and there just
couldn't be no idle hands nohow. Until we was old
enough to help, Mother had to do 'most everything
around the house. She milked the cows, made the
butter; she looked after the hogs and chickens. She
made the soap and the tallow candles and fixed the
grease for the lamps. She carded the wool and spun
and wove the cloth and made all of our clothes. She
was a good mother to us, and with Father she brought
us all up, and we are living to-day. We're all strong
and healthy and well and she enjoyed every moment
of it. She enjoyed life much more in those days, so
she says, slaving and working for us, than she does
to-day, jes quietly living with us with not much to
do or to bother about.
She jes didn't have time to worry or be unhappy.
Life tried to crowd in on her and bust her up right
smart and she jes wouldn't let it nohow. She knowed
what she wanted she wanted her home, her husband,
and her own children, and she knowed she would have
to pay for these things with work and sacrifice, so she
was willing. That's a mother for you! And that's
what she's done done for me.
And here I was running hog-wild around the
country, keeping her up late nights and worrying the
heart out of her. No matter how long I stayed away
and how late I come home, no matter how drunk I was,
no matter how much I had gambled away my money,
no matter how much I come home shouting and whoop-
ing it up, she never had a short word for me, never.
142 SERGEANT YORK
She would shake her head and look at me, with a hurt
look in her eyes, and sometimes she would cry and
always she would beg rne to give it up and lead a
better life. Sometimes I would come home from a big
drunk or from a wild party, and I would find her
sitting up in the lamplight waiting for me. And when
I would ask her why she hadn't laid down or gone to
bed, she would kinder look at me and say she couldn't
sleep, because she was afraid I would get killed or
something would happen to me.
Often she would remind me of my father, of how
he never drunk, or gambled, or played around with
bad company, and of how he would not like it nohow
if he knowed what I was doing ; and she used to meet
me at the door and put her arms around me and tell
me that I was not only wasting this life, but I was
spoiling all my chances for the next. She used to say
that she jes couldn't bear to think of where I would
go if I died or was killed while I was leading this
All of this was making me feel kinder bad. I jes
knowed I was wrong. I jes knowed there was no
excuse for me, and I was beginning to make up my
mind to cut it out, when she begun her praying for
me. She told me of the Good Shepherd in the Bible
who left the whole flock of sheep to go and look
after and bring in the one that had strayed. She
prayed and prayed. So I made up my mind to finish
it. It was hard though. When you get used to a
thing, no matter how bad it is for you, it is most
awful hard to give it up.
It was a most awful struggle to me. I did a lot of
walking through the mountains and thinking. I was
fighting the thing inside of me and it was the worstest
fight I ever had. I thought of my father and what
a good man he was and how he expected me to grow
up like him, and I sorter turned over in my mind
all the sacrifices Mother had made for me* I ricol-
lected that I had never asked her to do anything
which she refused if it was right. I knowed that she
had given up 'most all of her life for her children.
I knowed she would have given her whole life for me.
I knowed how she loved me. And now she was ask-
ing me to give up all of this wild life and bad com-
panions and be a good boy again.
So I thought and struggled and prayed more and
more. And then, jes as I was making up my mind
and getting control of myself, a preacher-man come
into the valley. He was the Rev. H. H. Russell from
Indiana. He preached very close. I mean very close
to the word of God as it is revealed in the Bible.
He fought everything that any preacher could have
fought. He fought everything that was not right.
His meetings were at the Wolf River Church. The
people come In from all around. They come from the
river flats and from the back creeks and from the
mountains. They come most in farm wagons and on
horseback, and some of them walked. It was a won-
derful crowd. The church could scarcely hold them
all. There were great meetings every night, and that
preacher man had more conversions, in the time, than
any other man that had ever been through the valley.
144 SERGEANT YORK
Sometimes I used to walk out on the mountainside
and do a heap of thinking and praying before the
meetings. Then I would go and listen and pray and
ask God to forgive me for my sins and help me to
see the light And He did. In that-there little church,
out in the hills and at home with Mother, I begun to
see how wrong I was and how terrible it was for a
man to be wasting his life like I was. I begun to see
that I was missing the finer things. I knowed in my
heart that when you miss the finer things of life you
might jes as well be a razorback out in the mountains
for all the good you are to yourself and anybody else.
So I decided to change and go in for the finer things*
And I have done it. I give up smoking, drinking,
gambling, cussing, and brawling. I give them up com-
pletely and forever. I give them up the first of Janu-
ary, 1915- I have never backslided. I have never
done any of those things since. I have no desire any
more. I am a great deal like Paul, the things I once
loved I now hate. I went through the World War
without drinking, smoking, or cussing.
After I changed my life everybody around me was
happy. My mother was most happy of all. I found
out the truth of what the Bible says: "There is more
rejoicing over one sinner that repenteth than over
ninety-nine just persons that need no repentance/ 1
But I was not yet saved. I knew there was something
else. I continued to pray and go to church, and then
it come to me that not only must a man not do bad,
but he must also do good to be truly saved. I joined
the church. It was called the Church of Christ in
Christian Union. It hasn't any rituals or anything
like that. Its only creed is the Bible. It accepts the
Bible as It Is written. I gave most of my spare time
to it, and with Pastor Pile I helped teach a children's
class at Sunday school. I also led the singing. I
have a natural tenor voice. I went to Byrdstown and
takened lessons. I became known as the Singing
So I was saved.
And that is the greatest victory I ever won. It's
much harder to whip yourself than to whip the other
fellow, I'm a-telling you, and I ought to know because
I done both. It was much harder for me to win the
great victory over myself than to win It over those
German machine guns In the Argonne Forest. And
I was able to do it because my mother's love led me
to God, and He showed me the light, and I done fol-
LIFE'S tol'ably queen You think you've got a grip
on it, then you open your hands and you find there's
nothing in them. It doesn't go in straight lines like
bees to their hives or quail from the covey. It sorter
circles like foxes and goes back again to where it
begun* After I had given up liquoring and gambling
and fighting and the wild life, I kinder thought I could
settle down in peace and make amends for my sins
by working hard and doing all the good I could. I
got me a job farming with Rosier Pile. I worked from
sunup to sundown. I kept up my singing lessons, and
I spent any spare time I had reading the Bible and
doing church work.
Of course, often the old longing to go out and
bedevil around would come over me, but I jes prayed
and resisted the temptation. Sometimes Everett or
Marion or some of the other boys would drop around
and tell me they were putting on another gay party
and invite me to join them. Then it was that*I was
most sorely tempted. I prayed most awful hard and
got a good hold on myself and didn't go. Each time
I refused, it was so much easier next time ; and every
day it became easier. In a few months I got them-
there bad things out of my mind. I was thinking of
PREACHING ON THE MOUNTAINSIDE
bed been living for God and working in the church work
sometime before I joined the army."
YORK AGRICULTURAL COLLEGE
(The Grade School)
"I'm goin' to give all the mountain children a chance
to get a heap o' larninV
better things, more worthwhile things. I was begin-
ning to find peace in my soul.
So I was happy, living and working and learning
to love my fellowmen and trying most awful hard to
help anybody that wanted help. My mother was nigh
to the happiest woman in the valley. She was always
smiling and putting her hands on my shoulder sorter
loving-like whenever I was around. That made me
feel good. Most all of my friends were glad too.
That encouraged me. I worked harder than even
I read the Bible. I led the singing in the church, and
I helped in the Sunday school. I jes knowed I was
I truly felt as though I had been horned again. I
felt that great power which the Bible talks about and
which all sinners feel when they have found salvation,
I felt in my soul like the stormy waters must have felt
when the Master said, "Peace, be still." I used to
walk out in the night under the stars and kinder linger
on the hillside, and I sorter wanted to put my arms
around them-there hills. They were at peace and so
was the world and so was I.
And, of course, there was a girl; a little slip of a
girl. I knowed her since she was a baby. We sorter
growed up together. She was younger than me, and
it may have been on account of that or because I was
careless and didn't notice things, when I was drinking
and sinning around anyway, I hadn't noticed how she
had growed up from girlhood to womanhood. But
when I was saved and working hard and going in for
the decent things again, I begun to watch her comings
and goings pretty dose. I didn't see much of her at
first. I guess she had heard of my wild life and
sorter wasn't interested and kept out of my way, but
when I got religion the church work brought us to-
gether. We did not speak to each other much ai
first. She was kinder shy; she hain't never been out
of the mountains and hain't been used to strangers.
But she had a nice way about her, always kind to
folks and always doin' things for the church. There
hain't been nothing flighty about her nohow. And
I'm a-tellin' you she was pretty, always as fresh as
a flower in the mornin' with the dew on. I kinder
noticed her hair. You jes couldn't help noticing it.
I jes couldn't nohow. It was sort of soft and silky
and there was so much of it, and she done it up nice
in two big braids wound up in the back with a blue
ribbon woven in. And I seed her eyes was blue and
big and kinder shined with goodness, and though
I never thought of it before, I jes knowed blue was
my favourite colour. I am a-tellin 1 you there was
sornethin' grand about her, the way she talked in that
quiet voice of hers that sometimes got shaky, she was
that shy, and the way she looked at you with those big
blue eyes as though she was jes trying to see inside
of you and help you be good. I jes wanted to be near
her and talk to her; and there was many a time when
I was out tramping in these-here mountains with
them hound dogs of mine and scouting for coon when
I would jes sit down on some log and look over the
valley on that-there mountain where she lived and
wish I could be there and tell her how much I thought
of her and how there was nothing in the world I
would not do for her if she'd only let me. That's
how much I cared for her.
Her parents were agin me. I couldn't blame them
nohow. But I wasn't in love with them at that time,
I was in love with Gracie, and we managed to steal
meetings, and nobody but us knowed much about them
nohow. There was a long winding lane between our
homes. It was lined with big shady trees. And there
was wild honeysuckle there. And, best of all, it sorter
dipped out of sight between the two hills. It was
sorter made for us to meet in. So of an evening
Gracie would come along this way to get the cows for
milking, and I most awful sudden found out there
were a heap of squirrels along that old lane. So I
would tote the old muzzle-loader and go hunting down
that way. I don't recollect getting many squirrels.
But I kinder used to always go back there every eve-
I was happy. I was happier than I had ever been
before. You see I found love, too* When you have
found that and peace of soul you are beginning to find
out what life is all about. I guess them-there two
things, love and peace, are what folks call the funda-
The World War done broke out, but as you don't
pay much attention nohow to a cloud when it first
comes up in the sky, so I didn't pay none to the war.
I scarcely heard or seed it. It didn't touch me. It
didn't mean nothing to me. I knowed it was in
Europe, but that meaned nothing to me. I knowed
150 SERGEANT YORK
big nations were fighting, but I didn't know for sure
how many and which ones. I didn't know what they
were fighting for. I didn't know what it was all
about. It was a long way from our peaceful little
valley to them-there battlefields way across the sea.
I read a little about it in the papers, and I heard them
talking about it around the store. Not much, though,
jes a little now and then.
So I went on with my farming and my church work
and trying to court Gracie, when people were not
around and I was lucky enough to meet her there in
the lane. And I am a-telling you that kept me
a-going. I had no time nohow to bother much about
a lot of foreigners quarrelling and killing each other
over there in Europe.
I had had fighting and quarrelling myself. I had
found it bad. I had larned that it didn't profit a man
nohow, and I had given It up forever, I hoped. I
didn't want to go in for it again nohow. I jes wanted
to be left alone to live in peace and love. I wasn't
planning my life any other way. I didn't see that I had
anything to do with them-there things away over in
Europe. I kinder figured out that if some people
were quarrelling and fighting in the valley next to ours
it wasn't none of my business to go over there and
interfere, and Europe was so much farther than any
neighbouring valley. That's what the war meant to
I didn't think our country would get into it nohow.
I didn't think we had anything to do with it. I never
even dreamed that we would go over there and fight.
Even when we got into it in 1917, it seemed a long
way off and I didn't figure on being called. But the
little cloud was growing blacker and bigger, and even
in our little valley there was a heap more of this war
talk. Some of the boys were talking of going away
and fighting, and there was a tollable lot of talk of
the draft and of how we would all have to go* I
couldn't see it that way. I couldn't sorter get in-
terested, and I just didn't want to fight nohow.
I wasn't unpatriotic or disloyal or anything like
that. I knowed my people for generations back had
always fought for their country. I knowed we were
all good Americans in the mountains, but that-there
World War seemed such a long way off. So I didn't
pay much attention to it. I didn't let It bother me.
I jes kept on a-going as I had been ever since I had
One summer afternoon I got my old squirrel gun
and went down the lane as usual and met Grade. I
disremember what we talked about or how it hap-
pened, but I know we come to an understanding. I
walked back home the happiest man that ever could be.
I was kinder drunk with happiness. I had Grade's
promise that she would marry me. Her folks were
agin me but she was for me. I sorter lived in a dream
for the next few days. And then all of a sudden, out
of nowhere, so it seemed to me, life sorter took me
by the back of the neck and tried to lift me out of
our little valley and throw me into the war over there
in France. I received from the post office a little red
card telling me to register for the draft.
152 SERGEANT YORK
I can't tell you how I felt. I just can't describe
It. I was all mussed up. Everything was going from
under me. Fight ! Kill 1 And I'd been converted to
the Gospel of peace and love, and of "Do good for
That's how the war come to me, in the midst of
all my peace and happiness and dreams, which I felt all
along were too good to be true and just couldn't last.
IN my records In the War Department in Wash-
ington, D. C,, there is a little narrow pink slip, marked:
YORK, ALVIN C.
Desires release as he is conscientious objector.
A. G. 383.2 Exemp. Religious sects.
So as long as the records remain I will be officially
known as a conscientious objector. I was. I couldn't
have been anything else nohow.
At first I jes couldn't imagine I would have to fight.
The war seemed too far away to be mixing me up in
It. And I didn't want to be in it nohow. I never had
killed nobody, not even in my bad days, and I didn't
want to begin now. I turned my back on all of those
rowdy things and found a heap of comfort and hap-
piness in religion. I joined the church. It was the
Church of Christ in Christian Union. I had takened
its creed and I had takened it without what you might
call reservations. I was not a Sunday Christian. I
believed in the Bible. And I tried in my own way
to live up to It* It was the only creed of my church.
154 SERGEANT YORK
To be a member I had to accept the Bible as the in-
spired word of God. I did. And the Bible said,
"Thou shalt not kill." That was so definite a child
could understand it. There was no way around or
out of it, So you see there were two reasons why I
didn't want to go to war. My own experience told
me that it weren't right. And the Bible were agin
But Uncle Sam said he wanted me and he wanted
me most awful bad. And I had also been brought
up to believe in my country. I knowed that even in the
Civil War, when Tennessee was a doubtful state, my
two grandfathers had both fought straight out for the
Union. I knowed that my great-great-grandfather,
old Coonrod Pile, had been one of the pioneers who
done helped to build up this-here country, and he
hain't never hesitated to use a gun, and I kinder felt
that my ancestors would want me to do whatever my
country demanded of me.
So you see my religion and my own experience sorter
told me not to go to war, and the memory of my
ancestors jes as plainly sorter told me to get my gun
and go and fight. I didn't know what to do. I ain
a-telling you there was a war going on inside of me
and I didn't know which side to lean on. I was a
heap bothered. Hit is a most awful thing when the
wishes of your God and your country sorter get mixed
up and go against each other. One moment I would
make up my mind to follow God, and the next I
would hesitate and almost make up my mind to follow
CONSCIENTIOUS OBJECTOR 155
Uncle Sam. Then I wouldn't know which to follow
or what to do.
I wanted to follow both. But I couldn't. They
were opposite. And I couldn't reconcile them nohow
in my soul. I wanted to do what was right. I wanted
to be a good Christian and a good American too. I
had always figured that the two were sort of con-
nected. And now I was beginning to find out that they
were kinder opposed to each other. If I went away
to war and fought and killed, according to my reading
of the Bible, I weren't a good Christian, And if I
didn't go to war and do these things, according to
Uncle Sam, I weren't a good American.
So I was the most bothered boy in all of these
mountains. I didn't know what to do or where to
turn. I walked the mountains night after night, trying
to figure it out. I read the Bible over and over. I
prayed and prayed, often late into the night. I got
away off In the woods and I got out that little Gov-
ernment card telling me to register for the draft. I
turned it over. I read and studied it. I jes couldn't
make up my mind that the Bible were wrong. And
I couldn't make up my mind Uncle Sam were right.
I was a soul In doubt. I'm a-telling you, I was most
Pastor Pile was the registrar. He had a store and
the post office at Pall Mall, and the Government done
instructed him to take the registration for the draft,
I went to him and we talked it over, and we read the
Bible and prayed together. No matter how we looked
i 5 6 SERGEANT YORK
at It, we always come up against "Thou shalt not kill."
That was the word of God and that was how it was
revealed in His Holy Book. There was no gitting
past that nohow.
So when I registered I claimed exemption from the
draft, I wrote on the paper: "I don't want to fight."
And that-there paper with that statement on it is now
in the War Department in Washington, D. C.
A few weeks later I filed this application:
August 28, 1917.
To LOCAL BOARD
COUJSTTY OF FENTRESS.
I, Alvin Cullum York, Serial Number 378, hereby
certify that I am 29 years old and reside at Pall
I hereby respectfully claim discharge from selec-
tive draft on the following ground, that I am
( i ) A person who was a member of a well-
recognized sect or organization, organized
and existing May 18, 1917, whose then
existing creed or principles forbade its
members to participate in war in any form
and whose religious principles are against
war or participation therein in accordance
with the creed or principles of said well-
recognized religious sect or organization.
But the Local Board refused to exempt me.
CONSCIENTIOUS OBJECTOR 157
LOCAL BOARD FOR THE COUNTY OF FENTRESS
STATE OF TENNESSEE
Serial No. 378 Order No. 218
ALVIN CULLUM YORK
Denied, because we do not think "The Church
of Christ in Christian Union" is a well-recognized
religious sect, etc. Also, we understand it has no
especial creed except the Bible, which its members
more or less interpret for themselves, and some do
not dis-believe in war at least there is nothing
forbidding them to participate.
Then I was bothered more than ever. I done done
what I thought was right. I followed God, so I
thought, even against the judgment of my country.
I done wrote to the Board that I didn't want to go
to war because I didn't want to kill; and because I
belonged to a church which was opposed to war. And
they done refused my appeal. But that didn't convince
me nohow. I couldn't accept the written word of man
against the written command of God. So I appealed
against their decision. I wrote them:
LOCAL BOARD FOR THE COUNTY OF FENTRESS
STATE OF TENNESSEE
To LOCAL BOARD
I, Alvin Cullum York, Pall Mall, Tenn., now
hereby claim an appeal to the District Board for
Middle District of Tennessee, Nashville, Tenn.,
because you denied my claim for discharge which
E58 SERGEANT YORK
was based upon the ground that I am a member of
a well-recognized religious sect or organization ex-
isting May 1 8, 1917, whose then existing creed or
principles forbade its members to participate in
A. C. YORK,
Pall Mall, Term.
And I also forwarded two affidavits, one from
Pastor Pile and one from myself :
I. Affidavit of Person Whose Discharge Is
State of Tennessee,
County of Fentress, to wit:
Ij Alvin Cullum York, do solemnly affirm that
I am 29 years old and reside at Pall Mall, Tenn.,
and that Serial Number 378 was given me by Local
Board L. B. for County Fentress, and that claim
for my discharge was filed with said Local Board
on the 28th day of August, 1917, on the ground
that I was a person who was a member of any well-
known religious organization, organized and exist-
ing May 1 8, 1917, whose then existing creed or
principle forbade its members to participate in war
in any form and whose religious principles are
against war or participation therein, in accordance
with the creed or principle of said religious organi-
I do further solemnly swear that I am a member,
in good faith and good standing of the Church of
Christ in Christian Union, which, on the i8th day
CONSCIENTIOUS OBJECTOR 159
of May, 1917, was organized and existing as a well-
recognized sect or organization whose existing
creed or principles forbade its members to partici-
pate in war In any form.
I do further solemnly swear that my religious
convictions are against war or participation therein
in accordance with the creed or principles of said
I do hereby bind myself to report in person and
to notify said Local Board, at once, whenever the
conditions entitling me to discharge cease to exist.
A. C. YOKK,
Pall Mall, Tenn.
Subscribed and affirmed to before me
this ist day of Sept., 1917.
State of Tennessee, County of Fentress.
2. Affidavit of Clerk of Minister in Support of
Claim for Discharge.
State of Tennessee,
County of Fentress, to wit:
I, R. C. Pile, Minister, do solemnly affirm that
I am the minister of the Church of Christ in Chris-
tan Union, and I hereby certify that A. C. York,
who is personally known to me, is now a member of
said religious sect or organization.
I do further solemnly affirm that the said re-
ligious sect or organization was organized and ex-
i6o SERGEANT YORK
istlng on the i8th day of May, 1917, and was then
a well-recognized religious sect or organization, and
that the then existing creed or principles of said
religious sect or organization forbade its members
to participate in war in any form.
I hereby bind myself that if the said person
whose discharge is now sought ceases to be a mem-
ber of said religious sect or organization, or if the
existing creed or principles of said religious sect or
organization are changed so as not to forbid its
members participating in war in any form, or when-
ever the conditions entitling such person to dis-
charge cease to exist I will at once notify said Local
Board and will also request my successor in office
to give such notice.
R. C. PILE,
Church of Christ in C. U.
Subscribed and affirmed to before me
this 3d day of Sept., 1918
State of Tennessee, County of Fentress.
But It weren't no use. They denied my appeal:
Notice of Decision of District Board on Claim of
Appeal Filed by Person Called
To ALVIJSF CULLUM YORK,
Pall Mall, County of Fentress, Tenn.
You are hereby notified that this District Board,
having considered your daim of appeal from the
CONSCIENTIOUS OBJECTOR 161
decision of Local Board for County of Fentress,
and having considered all affidavits and the record
with respect to said claim of appeal, has, this 6th
day of October, 1917, affirmed said decision.
DISTRICT BOARD FOR MIDDLE DISTRICT OF
STATE OF TENNESSEE
By ERWIN L. DAVIS
W. H. HANFORD
I was now most awful worried. I was sorter
mussed up inside worser'n ever. I thought that the
word of God would prevail against all of the laws of
man and of nations. I thought there must be some
mistake somewhere. I knowed those words in the
Holy Book come from God. I knowed He meant
them and I knowed they must be right. I thought
that I would not be a good Christian If I did not do
all in my power to stick to them oncet I done accepted
them. So I appealed to the Board again. I was
sorter fighting against fighting. I mean I was fight-
ing hard so I would not have to go to war and kilL
It was sorter like a forest fire, when you fight fire
with fire. I didn't understand It all. I only knowed
I was troubled more'n I ever'd been before. I was
up against the biggest thing I ever'd been up against.
I'd used God's holy command in order to get an ex-
emption from war. And now men who claimed they
were jes as good Christians as 1 was, and were good
churchmen too, although they didn't belong to my
church, disallowed the words of God, as I had sent
i6a SERGEANT YORK
them In, and told me that I would have to go to
camp and learn to fight and kill for my country. So
I appealed again:
Form No. 151, prepared by the Provost Marshal
Notice of Claim of Appeal by Person Certified to
To DISTRICT BOARD FOR MIDDLE DISTRICT OF
I, Alvin Cullum York, Pall Mall, Tenn., hereby
give notice that on the 13 th day of September, 1917,
I filed with Local Board for the County of Fentress,
State of Tennessee, Jamestown, Tenn., a claim of
appeal to your Honourable Board from the decision
of the said Local Board, wherein said Local Board
denied my claim for discharge, which claim was
based upon the ground that I am a member of a
well-organized Religious Sect or organization, exist-
ing May 1 8, 1917* whose then existing creed or
principles forbade its members to participate In
war in any form and whose convictions are against
war or participation therein in accordance with the
creed or principles of said well-recognized religious
sect or organization.
A. C. YORK,
Pall Mall, Tenn.
So you see how I fought against going to war. I
didn't hate nobody; I didn't want to kill nobody. I
CONSCIENTIOUS OBJECTOR 163
jes wanted to live and let live. I jes wanted to live
my life in peace and I jes wanted to be let alone to
love God and my f ellowmen ; and though the Germans
were a long way off and I didn't know them, 1 figured
jes the same they were my f ellowmen.
For the third time the Board refused to exempt me
and wrote confirming their decision that I would have
Form No. 157, prepared by the Provost Marshal
Notice of Decision of District Board of Claim of
Appeal Filed by Person Called.
To ALVIN CULLUM YORK,
Pall Mall, Tenn.
You are hereby notified that this District Board,
having considered your claim of appeal from the
decision of Local Board, County of Fentress, and
having considered all affidavits and the record with
respect to said claim of appeal, has, this 6th day
of October, 1917, affirmed said decision.
DISTRICT BOARD FOR MIDDLE DISTRICT OF
STATE OF TENNESSEE
By ERWIN L. DAVIS
W. H. HANFORD
I wrote it in my little diary:
164 SERGEANT YORK
JUNE 5, 1917
Pall Mall, Tennessee. Well, the first notice I
receved was to go and register. So I did. And
then I begun to think that I was going to be called
to be examined.
I was lean and hard at that time. I'd been hunting,
farming, blacksmithing, and driving steel. I had no
fat on me at all. I was all bone and muscle. And
I knowed I was physically fit.
OCTOBER 28, 1917
Jamestown, Tennessee. I was called to report
to the Local Board for examination. So I went
and when they look at me they weighted me and
I weighted 170 lbs M was 72 inches tall. So they
said I passed all right. Well, when they said that
I almost knowed that I would haft to go to the
Pall Mall, Tennessee. So I just went on with my
work and I receved a Little Blue Card that told
me to be ready for a 24 hour call at any time.
I didn't pass judgment nohow on the members of
the Boa^d. I knowed it was written, "Judge not lest
ye be judged." I was not even angry. I larned to
kinder hold in my anger. I was only sad and sorry
and bothered deep down In my soul. I thought that
if I wanted to follow God and do His blessed
CONSCIENTIOUS OBJECTOR 165
that was my own affair, and I would be left alone to
do It. And I wanted to be left alone, I told them
this again and again* I wrote it in my application.
I swore it out in my affidavit, and they said jes the
same I had to go! And worst of all, Pastor Pile,
who was my friend and spiritual adviser, and who
didn't want me to go any more'n I did want to go
myself, had to be the one to register me. I often
wondered why we have got to do things we don't
want to do nohow, why, when we want to live in
peace, we have to go away to war ; why, when we say
we are Christian nations, we don't try to live in peace
and kinder respect people who love peace instead of
sending them off to fight and kill, like they were going
to send me.
And the worstest thing of all was that it was my
country that was sending me, I'd always loved my
country and believed in it. I was willing to live and
work for it. If It wanted me to, I was willing to die
for it. I hain't never been afraid to die, I am a-telling
you. But my country wanted me to do more'n that ;
it wanted me to go and fight and kill others, and it
said that it was right for me to do this, and God said
it was not right. And there I was that way I didn't
know what else to do but pray for the light.
Then I received word to report.
NOVEMBER 14, 1917
Jamestown, Tennessee. So later I sure receved
a card that said report to your Local Board. So
i66 SERGEANT YORK
I went to Jamestown, Tenn., and reported to the
Local Board and I stayed all night that night with
1 knowed that I had to go. Of course, I could have
run away and hid in the mountains, but I hain't never
run away from anything before, except sin. I hain't
never run away from my country. I hain't never done
anything agin my country so I would have to run away.
So I didn't. I could have stayed in Pall Mall and jes
waited to see what happened, but then I knowed what
would happen. The soldiers would come for me and
takened me, and if I resisted there would be a fight,
and maybe a killing, and that's jes what I didn't want
to happen. I didn't want to fight or kill at home or
anywhere else. So I reported,
Oneida, Tennessee. The morning of the I5th I
started for the camp, which was Camp Gordon. I
went to Oneida, Tenn., and stayed there until about
2 o'clock A.M. the next morning, when I entrained
for Atlanta, Ga.
I jes went to that old camp and said nothing. ]
did everything I was told to do. I never once dis-
obeyed an order. I never once raised my voice ir
complaint, but I was sick at heart jes the same, ]
heard the boys around me talking about what fun ii
would be to go over seas and fight in the trenches
I heard them telling of how many Germans they wen
CONSCIENTIOUS OBJECTOR 167
going to kill If ever they got a chance* I heard all
sorts of things about the glory of war. But I couldn't
see It like they seed It nohow. I prayed and prayed
that God would show me His blessed will. And back
there In the mountains Pastor Pile prayed and Mother
prayed, too, and I jes knowed that all of those prayers
would not be In vain. I jes knowed It*
THE SWORD AND THE BIBLE
I WAS detailed to Company G, 328th Division.
That was a fighting division and was soon to be
ordered overseas. I knowed that unless something
happened I would have to go up into the front-line
trenches and shoot and kill my brother men. I knowed
that would be soon, too. And I didn't want to do that
So at last I went to my company commander, Cap-
tain Danforth, of Augusta, Ga., and I told him every-
thing. I told him I belonged to a church that was
opposed to war and that I didn't wish to be placed
in a position that it might be necessary for me to kill
a fellowman. I told him I hain't never talked about
this in camp or disobeyed orders. I hain't never
shirked my duty at no time. I hain't never refused to
do anything he had ordered me to do, and I wasn't
planning on refusing, I told him I knowed I was in
the army and would have to obey. I would continue
to be a soldier if I had to. I would go overseas.
I would go in the front-line trenches. I would even
kill Germans if I was ordered to. But I told him
I wanted him to know I didn't believe in killing nohow,
and that it worried me a-plenty. I told him all of this
as man to man straight from the shoulder.
THE SWORD AND THE BIBLE 169
The Captain told me that there were several con-
scientious objectors in the camp, but that he sorter
believed I was honest and sincere. I told him then
how I had prayed and prayed. He assured me that
he would consider everything I had told him and give
me a right-square deal. A few days later he told me
he done spoken to the battalion commander. Major
Buxton, about me, and that the Major asked him if
he believed I was sincere and when he said he believed
I was, the Major done told him to bring me to his
headquarters for questioning.
Major Buxton was from Providence, R. I. He was
the first New Englander I ever knowed. He was a
very good man, but at that time I was most troubled
for his soul. I disliked to think that such a good man
as he appeared to be would be willing to go to war
and lead other men to fight, I couldn't understand
how he could sorter square war and killing with his
professed religious beliefs.
So one night Captain Danforth took me to Major
Buxton' s room to discuss these things with him. Be-
fore I done went I prayed to God for guidance. I
took my Bible along with me. We all got together
in his room there in Camp Gordon, which is in Georgia
not far from Atlanta. The Major's room was like
most of the officers' headquarters, jes a plain, small
room. There was a little bed in it and some camp
stools. There was a trunk In the corner and some
military clothes hanging up or scattered around, and
jes one light, a small electric light that hung down
from the ceiling. The Major was very friendly-like;
170 SERGEANT YORK
he always was with us boys. He told us to sit down.
He said he didn't want to discuss this question as a
battalion commander discussing it with an officer and
a private. He wanted us to discuss it as three Ameri-
can citizens interested in a common cause. He said
he respected any honest religious conviction and would
be glad to discuss things as man to man. He asked me
why was I opposed to going to war. I told him that
I belonged to a church which disbelieved in fighting
and killing. He then asked me what was the creed
of the church. I told him the only creed was the Bible,
and I also told him that I done accepted the Bible as
the inspired word of God and the final authority for
all men. So he then asked me what did I find in the
Bible that was agin war, and I told him it was written,
"Thou shalt not kill." He kinder looked at me for a
moment and then asked if I accepted everything in the
Bible, every sentence, every word, jes as completely
as I accepted the Sixth Commandment, "Thou shalt
not kill." I told him I did.
He then begun to read other parts of the Bible
which he said proved that a, man under certain condi-
tions could go to war and fight and kill and still be
a good Christian. He read a number of quotations.
He read them well and accurate. I was kinder sur-
prised at his knowledge of the Bible. It made me
happy in my soul to know that my battalion com-
mander was familiar with the word of God. I always
thought Major Buxton was a good man, and now I
knowed he was. Jes the same, he was for fightin*. I
remember he begun by pointing out that Christ once
THE SWORD AND THE BIBLE 171
said: "He that hath no sword, let him sell his cloak
and buy one." I lowed that was in the Bible. But
I reminded him that Christ also said: "If a man smite
you on one cheek, turn the other to him." He ad-
mitted that, but he asked me if I believed that the
Christ who drove the money changers from the temple
with the whip would stand up and do nothing when
the helpless Belgian people was overrun and driven
from their homes.
By this time we was at it right. We both knowed
the Bible. I knowed now that I was on the right track.
I knowed that if we studied the whole business through
the words of the Lord, we must come to a right under-
standing. We talked along these lines for over an
hour and every now and then Captain Danforth
joined in, We didn't get annoyed or angry or even
raise our voice. We jes examined the old Bible and
whenever I would bring up a passage opposed to war,
Major Buxton would bring up another which sorter
favoured war. I believed the Lord was in that room.
I seemed somehow to feel His presence there. I dis-
remember a heap of what we said, but I know that I
mentioned that when St. Peter struck off the ear of
the high priest's servant, Christ, in restoring the ear,
told Peter to put up the sword: "They that live by
the sword shall die by the sword." But that-there
Major Buxton knowed his Bible right smart He
come right back at me and answered that at the same
time Christ also said : "For my kingdom is not of this
world; but if my kingdom were of this world, then
would my servants fight."
i 7 2 SERGEANT YORK
The Major then went on and said that the United
States of America was an earthly government and its
servants must fight for it whenever its liberties was
threatened, and he reminded me that Christ said we
must render unto Caesar the things that are Cassar's.
And the Major 'lowed that Christ meant by this to
emphasize the duties of Christians to their govern-
ment. Major Buxton ended by quoting from Ezekiel:
When I bring the sword upon a land, if the people of the
land take a man of their coasts, and set him for their watch-
If when he seeth the sword come upon the land, he blow the
trumpet, and warn the people ;
Then whosoever heareth the sound of the trumpet and taketh
not warning, if the sword conie and take him away, his blood
shall be upon his own head.
He heard the sound of the trumpet, and he took not warn-
ing, his blood shall be upon him. But he that taketh warning
shall deliver his souL
But if the watchman see the sword come and blow not the
trumpet, and the people be not warned, if the sword come and
take any person from among them, he is taken away in his
iniquity; but his Hood will I require at the watchman 's hands.
The Major made a great Impression on me that
night. A right-smart impression, too. He had kinder
opened my eyes to things which were in the Bible,
which I knowed were there, but which I hadn't thought
of as he had thought of them. I ain't admitting that
he had convinced me. He got me to thinking more
and more. And more than ever now I didn't know
what to do. I jes sat there and prayed and thought.
He must have knowed it, too. He sorter looked at
THE SWORD AND THE BIBLE 173
me and smiled, jes like my father used to. Then I
told him that I would like time to think it over, and
that in the meantime I would go on jes as I'd been,
doing everything I was told to do and trying to be a
good soldier. He shook hands with me and told me
to take as long as I liked, and to come to him when-
ever I wished to. Then he said good-night, and Cap-
tain Danforth takened me back to my lines.
I spent considerable time turning the Major's argu-
ments over in my mind that night and I worried and
prayed 'most all through the night until reveille. The
next morning I wrote in my little diary :
Camp Gordon, Georgia* Oh, these were trying
hours for a boy like me, trying to live for God
and do His blessed will, but yet I could look up and
O Master, let me walk with Thee
In lonely paths of service free,
Tell me Thy secret, help me to bear,
The strain of toil, the fret of care.
And then the Lord would bless me and help me to
bear my hard toiles.
But I couldn't get no understandings around that-
there old camp. I hain't been used to that. I sorter
can r t get alone with myself when there's crowds about.
And I knowed I jes had to be alone to fight it out
with myself. Hit was one of them-there sort of battles
where nobody can help you nohow. You have jes got
174 SERGEANT YORK
to help yourself. And I kinder knowed that the only
place where I could do that was back there In the
mountains where I belonged There's heaps of peace
there. I jes knowed I had to go back, or else I would
always be sorter twistin' in torment like thern-there
lost souls that can't never see the light nohow.
So I applied for leave and I was given a pass for
MARCH 2 1 -3 1ST
Pall Mall, Tennessee. So I got a pass after a
while for 10 days. So I went home and while I
was at home we had several services at Greer's
Chaple, and the Lord blessed us and we had a fine
meeting. Rev. R. C Pile and others were helping,
and there were a number of people saved during
this little meeting. So the Lord was with us. Bless
His holy name.
I knowed now that if I went back and told the
Major I was still opposed to fighting he would let me
out or have me transferred into another branch of the
service where I wouldn't have to kill. He knowed
now that I was sincere. He was a good man. He
would help me. But something in me had kinder
changed. I was beginning to see war in a different
light. I had takened to heart and read over and over
again them-there passages from the Bible he had read
to me. I kinder balanced them against the passages
that made me a conscientious objector. I had tried to
bring the two together. I knowed the "Lord worked
THE SWORD AND THE BIBLE 175
in marvellous ways, His wonders to perform.'* I
knowed that He had His own way of saying and doing
things. I knowed that if it was His will He would
even use war as an instrument in His hands. I tried to
look at it this way. I talked to Pastor Pile again and
again. But all I got from all of this was to get more
and more confused than ever. I jes didn't know what
to do; whether to want war or peace; and I didn't
know which He wanted me to do.
So I went out on the mountainside and asked Him
sorter straight out from the shoulder. I went off to
a quiet place not far from my home. I knelt down and
I prayed and I prayed all the afternoon, through the
night and through part of the next day. I asked Him
to have pity on me and show me the light. I begged
Him to comfort me if it was His will and tell me what
to do. And as I prayed there alone a great peace
kinder come into my soul and a great calm come over
me and I received my assurance. He heard my prayer
and He come to me on the mountainside. I didn't see
Him, of course, but He was there jes the same. I
knowed He was there. He understood that I didn't
want to be a fighter or a killin' man, that I didn't want
to go to war and hurt nobody nohow. And yet I
wanted to do what my country wanted me to do. I
wanted to serve God and my country, too. He under-
stood all of this. He seed right inside of me, and He
knowed I had been troubled and worried, not because
I was afraid, but because I put Him first, even before
my country, and I only wanted to do that which would
i ? 6 SERGEANT YORK
So He took pity on me and He gave me the assur-
ance I needed- I didn't understand everything. I
didn't understand how He could let me go to war and
even kill and yet not hold It agin me. I didn't even
want to understand It was His will and that was
enough for me. So at last I begun to see the light I
begun to understand that no matter what a man Is
forced to do, so long as he is right in his own soul he re-
mains a righteous man. I knowed I would go to war.
I knowed I would be protected from all harm, and that
so long as I believed in Him He would not allow even
a hair of my head to be harmed.
I arose and thanked Him and went home over the
mountains, singing a hymn.
I told my little old mother I was going and not to
worry. I was coming back safe and sound. I told my
brothers and sisters and 1^ told Pastor Pile. And for
a while I was happy and at peace with myself and with
But when I went back to camp and seed all the boys
there getting ready to go to the war, some of the old
worries come a-piling back on my soul. I knowed I
was all right. But I kinder got a-figurin* that the
whole thing was a heap bigger than my own personal
peace of soul. I might be safe myself, but in going
over there and fightin' I might be helping to have them
killed and a heap more of others, too, and that wor-
I knowed He was going to watch over me, because
I done done what I thought was right. But I wanted
Him to watch over all of us, and I knowed He would
THE SWORD AND THE BIBLE 177
only do that if we were all right and if our cause was
right, too. I kinder felt now that it was right. But
I wasn't sure. It's most awful hard for a weak human
being, all sort of torn up with doubt and worry, to
walk his way in perfect faith and understanding.
Pastor Pile wrote direct to President Wilson and
explained things to him and asked him to release me.
The letter come on down to our camp in Georgia. But
I didn't follow it up. I didn't make any more claims
for exemption. I didn't try to get out nohow. I
knowed I was to go, but I was still worrying about
the war in general.
We moved up to Camp Upton, N. Y., and prepared
ourselves to go overseas. So I went to the Captain
again, Captain Danforth of Augusta, Ga., and asked
him to please explain to me what we were fighting for
and why we were leaving our homes and going over
there to fight people we didn't even know and had
never met before. The Captain kinder looked at me,
funny like, as though he had thought he had settled
all of that with me once before. But jes the same he
was patient. Lieutenant Stewart, who, later on, was
killed in the Argonne, was there in the orderly room
with him and he was patient, too. They explained to
me how the Germans done broken their promise to Bel-
gium and done overrun those countries over there and
put so many people to the sword; that unless they were
stopped they would keep on until they done overrun
the world. They jes had to be stopped and we Amer-
icans were going over there to help stop them.
*7S SERGEANT YORK
Then I begun to understand, not clearly yet, but
We were to be peacemakers. And it was written
in the Bible, "Blessed are the peacemakers"
That was we-uns. We were to help make peace, the
only way the Germans would understand. But I
couldn't help a-wonderin' why there wasn't some other
way to get peace except by fightin* for it.
AND all of this time while I was struggling with
my doubts I was going on with my training and sorter
fitting into camp life. I obeyed orders. I did every-
thing I was told to do. I tried rny best to be a good
Camp Gordon, Georgia. I was placed in the 2ist
Training Bn and there I was called out the first
morning of my army life to police up in the yard
all the cigarette buts, and I thought that was pretty
hard as I didn't smoke but I did it just the same.
I hain't never travelled much before going to camp.
I hain't never been out of the mountains before, and
I'm a-telling you I missed them right smart. It's
pretty flat and sandy country down there In Georgia,
and there ain't no strength or seasonin' in it. Hit
shore needs hills and mountains most awful bad.
Camp Gordon, Georgia. So I stayed there and
did squads right and squads left until the first of
February, 1918, and then I was sent to Company G
328 Bn. 82 Div.
i8o SERGEANT YORK
The Eighty-second Division was known as the All-
Amerkan Division. We wore the insignia A A on
our shoulder. We were made up of boys from 'most
every state in the Union. There were some moun-
taineers. Not many of them, though. Jes a few.
There were Jews from the East Side of New York;
there were English and Irish boys from the mill towns
of New England; there were Greeks and Italians from
some of the big cities in the East; there were Poles
and Slavs from the coal mines of Pennsylvania ; there
were farmers from the Middle West; there were cow
punchers from Oklahoma and Texas; and there were
even some German boys. One-fifth of our men were
of foreign birth, and several hundred were not even
citizens of the United States. A right-smart number
of them couldn't speak or understand the American
language. And a whole heap couldn't read or write
or even sign their own name.
Camp Gordon, Georgia. So there they put me
by some Greeks and Italians to sleep. Well, I
cotddn't understand them and they couldn't under-
stand me, and I was the homesickess boy you ever
seen, ho ! ho !
I had never had nothing to do nohow with for-
eigners before. When I first heard them talk I kinder
thought they were angry with each other; they seemed
to talk so fast and loud. I couldn't pronounce their
names nohow. There was a great big Pole in guy
fit whose name was Private Feodor Sok. That was
easy. We jes called him Sok. There was another,
Private Maryan E. Dymowski. I never could get the
straight of that nohow. And then there was Private
Joe Konotski. I couldn't do much with that either.
And there was Private Mario Muzzi and Michael Sac-
cina. These are only a few of the foreigners we done
had in my platoon. But they kinder give some idea
of what a mixed-up gang we had In the All-American
Our battalion commander was Major George Ed-
ward Buxton, Jr., from Providence, R. I. He was a
New Englander. His beginnings went away back; so
far back that I guess he can scarcely trace them him-
self. He was one of the finest men I had ever met.
He was one of the most larned men too; and he was a
right-smart mixer. He was one of the best soldiers I
ever knowed. Before America come into the war he
was over there on the other side writing for the Provi-
dence, R. I., Journal. When he returned home he jes
knowed America was coming in, so he got busy doing
everything he could to prepare us for when our turn
came. He takened part in the Preparedness Cam-
paign with ex-President Roosevelt. He went to Platts-
burg and he was one of the first officers to be commis-
sioned there. He went all over the country preach-
He was a most wonderful man at handling soldiers.
He had a battalion mixed up of all sorts. And yet he
knowed most all of us and understood us and figured
out the way to handle us. He was young for a com-
282 SERGEANT YORK
mandmg officer, in his early thirties, I reckon. He was
handsome, and in his major's uniform he looked a
right-smart soldier. He had a kinder habit of ^getting
us soldiers together and talking to us, something like
a father talks to his sons. I'm a-tellin 5 you he sorter
looked upon us as his sons, too. And in quicker time
than it takes a coon to jump out of a tree he made
that torn-up battalion all around us into a happy
I ricollect a heap of our fellows were sorter short
on this saluting business. So one day the Major got
us together and talked to us. He told us that we were
soldiers and we had to salute. Then he explained to
us that when we saluted an officer we weren't admittin'
nohow that we were under him or inferior to him; we
were jes letting him know that we were his friends.
He told us how the salute began. It was over there in
England, They had a big Civil War something like
ours here in America. The side that was beaten was
mussed up awful bad. Some of them were killed.
Some of them were put in jail. Some of them were
shipped away acrost the seas. And a whole heap of
them were driven into the forest where they were
hunted jes like wild animals. They had to keep mov-
ing jes in order to keep alive. Their sufferings sorter
drew them together. Of course, they were desperate
and did a lot of killing. But not among themselves.
Whenever they come together in the forest they would
hold out their right hand to show they didn't have a
gun in it and that they were friendly. That was the
beginning of it, so the Major explained to us. And
after a while it was sorter takened up by the English
army and made over into the salute. And so Major
Buxton pointed out that if we didn't salute him and his
officers he would take it that we were not friendly, and
if the officers didn't salute us back we were to take
It that way.
^ After that there was no more trouble about this
saluting business. Our boys were so friendly they
would salute every chance they got, and the Major had
to sorter slow us down* I ricollect another little talk
he gave us. He said in every war there was always
one famous battalion that come out of it and sorter
lived forever. He hoped that battalion would be ours.
And every war always produced its outstanding hero.
He didn't know where that hero was in the American
Army, but there was jes as good a chance of him being
in our battalion as anywhere else. And I'm a-tellin*
you after we heard him speak like that we all kinder
made up our minds to begetter soldiers and maybe try
and be that outstanding one ourselves. His favourite
advice to us was "Keep moving and always use your
head." I'm saying here and now that's right-smart
Captain E. C. B. Danforth, Jr., was my company
commander. He come from Augusta, and was a
Georgia "Cracker." He was a Harvard man. That
didn't mean nothing to me in those days. It didn't
mean much to the other boys either. All we knowed
was that like the Major he had a heap of larnin'. He
was tall and tough jes like a hickory pole. He must
have been about twenty-three or twenty-four years old,
184 SERGEANT YORK
and he had as much sense as a much older man, He
was the fightinest man, too, and when he was in action
our boys used to say he was that hard that the bullets
used to bounce ofi'n him. The Major and the Cap-
tain together were as good a combination as a pair of
Red Bones when you have them out after the foxes.
They ran together. If ever I have to go to war agin
I'm a-telling you I wouldn't ask for anything more
than to have them two leading me. Wherever they
go I am willing to follow. And that's jes about how
most of the other boys under them feel.
My own platoon was made up of a gang of the
toughest and most hard-boiled doughboys I ever heard
tell of. There were bartenders, saloon bouncers, ice
men, coal miners, dirt farmers, actors, mill hands, and
city boys who had growed up in the back alleys and
learned to scrap ever since they were knee high to a
duck. They were mixed up from 'most every country.
They were as hard as a forest full of oaks and they
were meaner and more full of fight than a hive of
wild bees. They could out-swear, out-drink, and out-
cuss any other crowd of men I have ever knowed.
They sorter looked upon leave-breaking as a divine
Our sergeant takened forty-eight hours' leave and
stayed away ten days. He was busted for that, but
later on he got his stripes back. He had to. He was
the only one who could drill and keep ias in hand. One
of our corporals went on leave and missed the boat
and had to follow us to France.
They were always spoiling to have it out with some*
body. They were fighters and that's all about It. If
you looked at them sorter sideways for even a second
you were in danger of being on the wrong end of a
punch. If you didn't drink they kinder regarded you
as being ignorant; and if you didn't cuss a blue streak
every time you opened your mouth you were considered
to be most awful illiterate.
A heap of them couldn't talk our own language at
all, and any number of them couldn't sign their own
names. The only way the Captain could get them to
larn to write was by telling them they couldn't get
their pay unless they could put their signatures to the
pay sheets. Ho 1 ho !
But jes the same, they were my buddies. I didn't
understand them at first. I didn't know nothing about
them nohow. I didn't cuss or drink or smoke or fight.
I didn't go A. W. O. L. [absence without official
leave]. And I was a conscientious objector. So they
didn't understand me either. But most they left me
alone. And that's all that I asked for. So they let it
go at that.
I guess Major Buxton and Captain Danforth
must have lost a heap of sleep trying to figure out
how to handle that-there gang of wild men. But
I'm a-thinking them-there officers knowed in their
hearts that if ever they got them safe overseas and
into the front-line trenches they would have a bunch
of fighters under them that never would stop until
they done mussed up the Germans right smart and
busted a hole right through that-there old Hindenburg
Line. But the puzzling thing was to keep them to-
z86 SERGEANT YORK
gather and to handle them in the right sort of way
until they were overseas. That was a job, I'm a-tellin'
you, and I ain't a-foolin' nohow. Them-there boys jes
had to fight.
The sergeant in charge of our platoon was Harry
Parsons, of Brooklyn, N. Y. He'd been an actor and
he was jes a natcheral-born entertainer. He used to
lead us in singing. He used to entertain us at night,
and when we were out on a long route march and were
tired out he would gather us around and go to it and
then we would all get to laughing and singing. That's
one of the ways he handled us. He was a big husky
sort of fellow. He knowed how to handle that pla-
toon. He didn't fight unless he had to, and then he
had a habit of biting his teeth together and putting his
chin out and letting fly with both hands at the same
time. And when he did that somebody went down,
and it was never him. But he never manhandled our
fellows unless he had to. But when he had to he made
a right-smart job of it. Something must have hap-
pened to him over there In the Argonne, because when
he come home he was changed. He went back on the
stage but he done lost his power to entertain.
Then we had two of the wildest fighting corporals
that ever knocked them down and dragged them out.
One of them was Bernard Early. He used to be a
bartender in Connecticut. The amount of liquor he
could put away was most amazing. And when it come
to fighting he jes couldn't be beat. Early come from
Ireland where they jes natcherly breed fighting men.
In and around the camp, in the saloon or over in the
front lines In France, It was all the same to Bernie,
If there was a fight he was happy. If there wasn't he
was kinder always looking for one. But he was a
friendly chap, and he had a sorter way with him. He
was a right-smart soldier, too, most awful brave. I
guess he hain't never known what fear was.
His particular buddy was another corporal, Wil-
liam S. Cutting. He was a Pole from around Boston
and New York, where he used to be an ice man. He
was always rarin' to go. You ought to've heard him
talk. He was funny oncet he said that when he got
into the front-line trenches if the Germans ever threw
bombs at him he would jes eat them-there bombs for
breakfast. These-here two corporals were jes about
the hard-bolledest soldiers I ever knowed. It took me
a long time to understand them, and I'm a-thinkin* I
ain't never really done it. But jes the same, once they
done gone into action, they shore enough cost the Ger-
mans a heap more bother than a whole swarm of
hornets or bumblebees ever could have.
Among the privates was that-there Sok. For a long
time I didn't even know that was his real name. I
thought it was a nickname. When he went berserker
over there at the front it looked as if he never would
stop nohow until he got right through to Berlin.
Then there was Michael Saccina, a little Italian. I
think he come from New York. After the fight in the
Argonne he likened the German Major's whistle to the
little whistle on a peanut stand at home in New York.
That sorter speaks for itself.
And there was Joe Konotski and Walter Swanson
188 SERGEANT YORK'
and Muzzi and Beardsley and Johnson and a heap of
others; all of them most awful hard fightin* men and
most awful tough soldiers. Most of them were always
causing a lot of trouble; but they bothered the Ger-
mans a heap more than they bothered anybody else, I
ricollect, too, we had a couple of farm boys from the
South with us. Hoi ho! When we were in New
York, before sailing, they got their safety razors.
They didn't understand them nohow. One of them
fixed up his razor and tried to shave with it, but it
weren't no good. He looked at it and said: "Any-
thing the Government gives you for nothing ain't never
no good," and with a sort of disgusted look on his face
he throwed it away. The other one tried several times
without even cutting a hair* Then he throwed his
away too, and said he "never had no use for the Demo-
crats nohow, 5 ' and now they were in power they had
to go and buy razors that wouldn't shave. Ho 1 ho !
They were trying to shave with the wax paper on the
So these were the sort of soldier boys that I was in
with in the Eighty-second Division. Jes a bunch of
hard-living, hard-fighting doughboys; always spoiling
for a scrap. But when you got to know them, they
were jes about as fine a bunch of buddies as ever got
together and did squads right and squads left, and
when they got into it over there they jes kept on
Of course, it takened me a long time to get to know
them. In camp I never did think I would larn to un-
derstand them, and I guess they couldn't figure me out
nohow. They knowed that I was a conscientious ob-
jector, and they hadn't much use for that. They jes
didn't understand, Sometimes they got to teasing me
most awful bad, but I never done any arguing with
them. I hadn't anything to say or any fault to find,
and I wasn't going to quarrel or fight with them no
matter what they done. I didn't want to fight nobody
and least of all American doughboys.
So we went on training together through the early
months of 1918.
Camp Gordon, Georgia. Well, they give me a
gun and oh my that old gun was jes full of Greece
and I hed to dean that old gun for enspection. So
I had a hard time to get that old gun clean. So
when I got this gun I begin to drill with the gun, and
we had to hike once a week. So I have seen many
boys fall out of the hikes. We would haft to take
long hikes with all our stuff on our back and carry
that gun. Ho 1 ho ! And we would haft to go out
before daylight and have sham battles. So I begin
to want a pass to go home.
That first army rifle that was issued me was all full
of grease, gun grease of some kind. Of course, I
didn't like that. The rifles we used in the mountains
we always kept clean. They were most all muzzle-
loaders. And I'm a-tellin' you up to one hundred
yards they could out-shoot them-there army rifles any
J9 o SERGEANT YORK
time. But, of course, a muzzle-loader wouldn't be no
good nohow in a modern war. It takes too long to
reload. It don't carry far enough, and it's too heavy.
So I had to get used to the army rifle. And I did.
I cleaned it up. I takened it to pieces. I put it to-
gether agin. I nursed it and doctored it. It larned all
Then we went out on the rifle ranges to practise
shooting. Them-there Greeks and Italians and Poles
and New York Jews and some of the boys from the
big cities hadn't been used to handling guns. Some of
them didn't even know how to load them, and when
they fired they not only missed the targets, they missed
the backgrounds on which the targets were fixed.
They missed everything but the sky. It shore was
dangerous scoring for them boys. Of course, it
weren't no trouble nohow for me to hit them great big
army targets. They were so much bigger than tur-
keys' heads. And an army bull's-eye is about a million
times bigger than a criss-cross cut with a sharp knife
on a piece of board or a tree; and that's the target we
most often used in our shooting matches at home. We
had to cut the centre right out to win anything. That's
the sort of shooting I was used to. So I made a tol'-
able score on the shooting ranges in camp.
I got my pass to go home in late March. I takened
the train as far as I could and then I hiked the last
twelve miles over the mountains, alone. I had to carry
my suit case, too. Ho I ho I
It kinder hurt to say good-bye to Mother* And I
jes knowed I would never forget that-there last meet-
ing in the lane with Grade. But I ain't a-writing about
those things. There are some things in your life that
you can't do nothing else with but jes sorter feel deep
inside of you. And that's the way it was with me.
Pall Mall, Tennessee. So I had to start back to
my company, and that was a heart-breaking time
for me, as I knowed I had to go to France. But I
went back to my company, trusting in my God and
asking Him to keep me, although I had many trials
and much hardship and temptation. But yet I could
lookup and say:
O God, in hope that sends the shining ray,
Far down the future's broadening way;
In peace that only Thou canst give;
With Thee, O Master, let me live.
Then it was that the Lord would bless me, and I al-
most felt sure of coming back home, for the Lord
was with me.
Camp Gordon, Georgia. So we left Camp Gor-
don in the afternoon.
APRIL 2 1ST
Camp Upton, New York. We got to Camp
Upton, N, Y., so we stayed there a few days and
Boston, Mass. We went to Boston, Mass.
Boston, Mass. About 4 o clock am we got on
board the old Scandaneven ship and started for
We left Boston and sailed down around to New
York Harbour and we stopped there until we got our
convoy, and then we lit out. And that was the first
time that I had ever seed the open sea. It was too
much water for me. Like me, Mark Twain, whose
parents come from Jimtown, was borned inland. And
he never seed the open ocean until he growed up. And
when he stood on the beach and seed it for the first
time, his friends asked him what he thought of it, and
he said, "It was a success/' But when Mark said that
he weren't on the ocean. He were on the shore* And
when our old boat got away out and begun to pitch
and toss I jes knowed Mark was wrong.
The Greeks, Italians, and Poles, and New York
Jews stood the trip right smart. That kinder im-
pressed me. It sorter made up for their bad shooting.
I sorter got to like them more.
OVER T H ERE
Liverpool, England. We got off the boat in the
Camp Knotteash, England. We stayed at a little
camp called Knotteash on the lyth.
Southampton, England. We went to South-
Southampton, England. Stayed there the
Southampton, England. We started from Eng-
land to France.
So you see I didn't see much of England. I'd trav-
elled over three thousand miles from my home to get
there, and when I did get there all I did was hike and
catch trains and keep moving. I might jes as well have
been in Georgia, only the English country was more
beautiful. It was sort of rolling-like and the parks
194 SERGEANT YORK
and fields were so neat and tidy that it 'most looked as
though they had special gardeners to look after every
few acres of them.
Of course, we were all anxious to get to France.
We wanted to get into it and get it over. We had a
sorter idea that they would rush us right to those old
front-line trenches and let us get at the Germans with-
out losing any time.
MAY 2 1ST
Le Havre, France. So we got to France at Le
Havre there we turned in our guns and got British
We crossed the English Channel on the H. M. S.
Viper. It was more like a bucking mule than a boat
We were only on it for a few hours, but that was
a-plenty. Long before we landed I didn't care whether
we stayed up or went down, whether we got there or
didn't get there. I didn't care about anything. I was
kinder miserable. I missed the mountains of Tennes-
see more'n ever.
We spent our first night in France in a little camp
outside of Le Havre* We had to turn in our guns and
get British guns. I had takened a liking to mine by
this time. I had takened it apart and cleaned it up
so often that I had learned every piece and could al-
most put it back together with my eyes shut. The
Greeks and Italians and Jews and Poles were improv-
ing. They had stayed continuously on the rifle range
for a month or two, and got so they could do shooting.
OVER THERE 195
They were fairly good pals, too. But I missed the
mountain boys. I was the only mountaineer in the
company. I was the largest in our platoon.
We got our first gas masks in Le Havre. That
brought the war a whole heap closer. I never did like
those pesky gas masks.
We travelled in box cars. They were marked,
u Forty men or eight horses." One of our boys who
was detailed to load the cars went to the Captain and
said: "Captain, I loaded the forty men all right, but if
you put the eight horses in too they will shore trample
the boys to death." Ho ! ho !
Eu, France. Taken the train at Le Havre and
come to a little place called Eu.
Floraville, France. We eat our Breakfast at Eu
and then Hiked to Floraville, and we stayed at
floraville a few days.
Field Marshal Haig and his staff inspected one of
our battalions here. The British commander made a
right-smart impression on the boys. While he was
with them he went and inspected one of the kitchens.
One of the cooks was a great big fellow from Tennes-
see, and the Field Marshal asked him if everything
was all right, and he said, "No, everything is all wrong,
most awfully all wrong there is no salt*" The Field
196 SERGEANT YORK
Marshal turned to the Quartermaster General, who
was with him, and asked for an explanation. The
Quartermaster said the two last salt ships were tor-
pedoed and there was a shortage. The Field Marshal
then instructed him to immediately send some salt to
the American kitchen. That kinder tickled our boys.
Our own General Pershing also inspected us. We
were anxious to make a right-smart impression on him,
because we knowed if we did we would get up to the
front-line trenches so much quicker, and our boys were
jes rarin* to go* General Pershing made even a better
impression than Field Marshal Haig, and he seemed
sorter satisfied with us. So you see here we were in
France. And we were inspected by two comrnanders-
in-chief and we got by all right. We shore were a
different outfit to the rambunshus crowd of half-wild
men that first got together in Camp Gordon, in
Anyone who thinks that soldiering is jes goin' back
in again and fightin*, is jes plumb foolin' himself.
Weeks passed and we never even seen a trench except
the training ones. We never once heard the sound
of guns. All we did was hike, and hike, and hike and
then hike again. They shore kept us a-going hiking.
It seemed as though they had sent us to France to
kinder test out the strength of them-there American
Mons Babert, France. Hiked here and we stayed
a few Days.
OVER THERE 197
And the boys were beginning to think by this time
that we weren't a-fightin* outfit at all. We were jes
sorter touring France on the hoof. Ho! ho! I
didn't mind it much because I was used to hunting and
tramping over the mountains. But them-there Greeks
and Jews and Italians from the cities shore filled their
shoes full of blisters. But they kept a-going jes the
same. I'm a-tellin' you them boys were coming along
right smart. I was beginning to get kinder fond of
them. They were sorter human jes like the mountain
boys I had knowed all my life. Of course, they were
not as strong or as good hikers or shooters, but I was
beginning to larn they had a few things about them
which the mountain boys didn't have nohow. Them-
there city boys shore nursed their feet, jes about as
careful as I nursed my guns.
JUNE (no date)
Fressenneville, France. Went on to Fressenne-
JUNE (no date)
Toul, France. Entrained for toul and we got to
toul and got off the train.
Lucey, France. Hiked to Lucey.
Of course, of a night time if we was near a town,
some of the boys got leave. Some of them got all
I 9 8 SERGEANT YORK
tanked up with vin rouge and cognac; and, being sol-
diers, they was right smart when it come to finding
them-there pretty French girls. Some of them shore
knowed more about hunting and finding them, too,
than I did about trailing coon and fox back there on
the mountains at home. They were fuller of fight than
ever. It was in them and it had to come out. They
couldn't get at the Germans yet, so they sorter prac-
tised out on themselves. There was a heap of Irish
and Poles in our platoon, and one night in one of the
cafes one of the Irish boys said he didn't believe the
Poles could fight nohow. Ho ! ho ! That shore started
it! They went at it with fists and belts. They turned
that cafe into a No Man's Land, only worse, and we
had to turn out the guard to stop it. I'm a-tellin r you
there was nothin' mean or bad about the boys. They
was jes sorter full of life.
I didn't go into the towns much. I had put all of
the drinkin' and fist-fightin' away behind me. I left it
back home on the Kentucky line. I didn't have a drink
all the time I was in France. I didn't have a fist fight
or an argument. I didn't swear or smoke either. I
wasn't any better'n any of the other boys. It was jes
my way of livin', that was all. They did what they
wanted to do. So did I. Our ways were different.
We let it go at that. I did a heap of reading from
the Bible. I read it through several times over there.
I worked on my little diary. I was a awful slow writer
and thinker. And though I didn't put much in it, it
tuk up plenty of time jes the same. I used to go
around, too, a little with Corporal Murray Savage*,
OVER THERE 199
About this time we were going in again for bayonet
practice. We had to rush the dummies the instructors
set up and stab bayonets into them and muss them up.
That sorter set me to worrying agin. I knowed the
time was coming when I might have to do the same
thing to the Germans. And though I knowed now that
we were fighting for peace, still it made me feel queer
to think I might have to cut up human beings, I still
didn't want to kill. I still did feel somehow that it
was wrong terrible wrong for human beings to take
each other's life. I don't know why I still felt like
this. But I did jes the same.
Rambucourt, France. We hiked a little ways and
then taken the train for a short ride and then we
got of train and hiked to Rambucourt and we stayed
at rambucourt until after Dark and then we went
up and took over the front line trenches for the first
We were going In at last. We could hear the guns
away in the distance now, jes like the thunder in the
hills at home. We seed a right-smart lot of deserted
trenches with wire entanglements, all snarled and
mussed up. We seed gun emplacements half full of
water. We passed an awful lot of graves, with little
wooden crosses at their heads. I'm a-tellin' you that
brought it home to us. And all the roads were sorter
blocked up with troops coming and going and artillery
200 SERGEANT YORK
and transports. As we got up closer we could hear
the rifles barking and the machine guns spitting, and
soon the bullets started coming over. They were stray
bullets. The Germans were firing in the front line
ahead of us and they were missing the parapet and com-
ing right back among us. It was the first time that we
were under fire, and of course we were a little nervous.
The officers told us boys that it was all right; that they
were only stray bullets; that they would not injure us,
and not to mind them. And one of thern-there Italian
boys grinned and give as his opinion that it didn't mat-
ter whether they were strays or not, that if they
hit us they would do jes as much damage as if they
was aimed at us. As we got right up close some of the
boys began to duck as the bullets come over. And then
somebody else 'lowed that it weren't no use ducking
nohow, because you never hear the one that hits you.
We went in and takened over the front line at night
Montsec Sector, France. And we releaved the
26th Div. Boys at night in the Montsec Sector at
Rambucourt and we stayed there until the 4th of
It was a quiet sector where they put new troops into
training before sending them out to No Man's Land.
The Greeks and Italians and all of the other boys done
fairly well. They shore were turning out to be the
bestest soldiers. I was often out on No Man's Land.
OVER THERE 1 201
I done done some patrolling. I handled an automatic
squad. We were armed with French sho-sho rifles.
They were sort of portable machine guns. They fired
about eighteen shots without reloading. They were
not much good nohow. They were big and clumsy.
They were too heavy. They were not accurate or
silent. You never could be shore you would hit what
you fired at, no matter how good a shot you were. All
you could do with them was make a lot of noise, and
waste a heap of ammunition, and hope for the best.
They weren't near as good as the sawed-off shotguns.
We had a heap of big stuff from the artillery coming
over and some gas, and we had to put on them pesky
gas masks agin. The German snipers were always
after us. They were good marksmen. They could
bust a periscope 'most every shot. They knowed how
to keep our heads down, too. The bullets was always
coming over, humming and buzzing around our ears,
jes like a lot of mad hornets or bumble bees when you
rob their nests.
I did a heap of thinking and praying at this time.
And more'n ever I jes knowed I was going to get back
all right. I believed in God and in His promises. And
I knowed as long as I did that He would believe in and
watch over me, and there one night In that old front-
line trench, I wrote in my diary:
Montsec Sector, France. A few words on Chris-
tian witness in war and why a Christian does worry.
202 SERGEANT YORK
Yet there Is no use worrying about anything except,
the worry of So many Souls who have passed out
into the Deep of an Unknown world and has left no
testimony as to the welf air of their souls. There is
no use of worrying a Bout Shells for you cant keep
them from bursting in your trench nor you cant
Stop the rain or prevent a light from a going up
jes as you are half way over the parapet So what
is the use of worrying if you cant alter things just
ask God to help you and accept them and make the
best of them by the help of God; yet some men do
worry and By Doing So they effectually distroy their
peace of Mind without doing any one any good.
Yet it is often the religious man who worries. I
have even heard those whose care was for the Sol-
dier Soul Deplore the fact that he Did not worry.
I have heard it said that the Soldier is so Careless,
realizes his position So little,
Up there in the front line I knowed as I had never
knowed before what a comforting thing religion is.
So I clung to my faith all the time. I read my Testa-
ment everywhere. I read it in the dugouts, in the fox
holes, in the front lines and everywhere. Hit was my
rock to cling to ; hit and my diary.
The trouble with our boys when we went into this
quiet sector was they would want to go out on top of
the trenches and start something. They was wanting
to get into it and get it over. I knowed now that the
Greeks and Italians and Poles and New York Jews
were fighters. Ho! hoi As right-smart fighters as
OVER THERE 203
the American-borned boys. They didn't want to lay
around and do nothing. And they would even go on
top and get the Germans out. Once one of them come
up to me right there in the front line and asked me,
"Where is the war ?"
They was always wanting to go over the top and
keep a-going. They shore were ambitious.
Well, we would stay in a quiet sector for a few
days. Then we would pull out and hike off to another,
and then another, until we gradually worked our way
into the real fighting sectors.
Cormeville, France. Then we come out to Cor-
meville and stayed there until July lyth.
Rambucourt, France. Went Back in the Lines
again and stayed until July 25th.
Rambucourt, France. We come out.
Mandres, France. We went in again in the sec-
tor at Mandres.
Mandres, France. Come out again.
204, SERGEANT YORK
While we were In these so-called quiet sectors four
of our men were detailed to take the chow to the front-
line outposts. It was night time, of course. They
were given the necessary passwords. But oije of
them, on the return, got separated and also forgot the
passwords. This was serious. Then he done some-
thing which sorter showed the kind of soldier he was.
He waited quietly for about a half hour until another
soldier come along. He then halted him in the cus-
tomary way, advanced him, received the password, and
let him pass by. He done pretended he was on guard
duty and so done received the password and got back
all right. He was a Greek and he spoke very little
English, but that didn't stop him nohow. I'm a-telling
you that's soldiering for you; that's using your head!
The Greeks and Italians and Poles and New York
Jews. Ho ! ho ! they were men* I was beginning to
ST . M I H IEL
Pont-a-Mousson, France. Went to Pont-a-Mous
son and stayed there in the front until August 24th
To we-uns all dirty and tired from being in the
front-line trenches and hiking all over France, Pont-a-
Mousson was a kinder earthly paradise. It is in the
valley on the banks of the Moselle River. It was late
summer, jes the time when the fruit is ready for pick-
ing. The trees and vines were loaded with grapes and
apples and everything. The gardens were all kept up
nice, with everything kinder ripe and ready, and there
was plenty of green grass and shade and cool, clean
water. It was most hard for us to imagine that we
were still in the war. The city wasn't mussed up at
all. It hadn't been shelled nohow. We heard there
had been a kind of agreement between the French and
the Germans to leave it alone. So it had stayed there
all by itself and unharmed for four years. We bathed
and rested there. And got us some good fruit and
laid out in the sunshine until we felt sort of re-made all
2o6 SERGEANT YORK
Liverdun, France. Come out to Liverdun and
stayed there until Sept. ist.
Pont-a-Mousson, France. Went back to Pont-a-
When we entered the town this time we found that
the French population had jes left before we arrived.
Everything was left standing jes as it was. Even the
tables were set and the food was still standing on the
stoves. Some of us stole in and had the best food we
done tasted for a long time. The beds were made;
everything was clean and orderly. You see the French
population had been done told that the drive was be-
ginning, and they had lit out as fast as they could,
only taking with them what they could tote in their
arms. About this time the Germans started to send
over some big shells. They done done a whole heap
of damage to the nice little town and they done mussed
up the orchards and done scattered the fruit all over
the place. A little while later we heard the most awful
explosion, jes as if an ammunition dump had been
blowed up. We found out that our artillery done
moved up some big naval guns. They were much big-
ger than tractors, and most awful long. They shore
let the Germans have It. We could hear the big shells
whinin* and whizzin' over our heads on their way to
Metz, which was fifteen miles away.
ST. MIHIEL 207
We were now getting ready for the St. Mihiel drive,
which was to be the first real battle we were in, and
the first major offensive for the American Army. It
done opened with a most awful barrage from our big
guns. It was the awfulest thing you ever heard. It
made the air tremble and the ground shake. At times
you couldn't hear your own voice nohow. The air was
full of airplanes, and most of them American planes.
There must have been hundreds of them. They were
diving and circling around all over the place like a
swarm of birds. We seed several right-smart fights
away up there above us. One day we was sitting in
a trench, looking up and watching, when one of them-
there East Side Jews 'lowed that he might be killed
in a airplane accident, but if ever he was, the airplane
would have to light on him. For a few days before
the attack we waited on a little hillside jes outside of
Pont-a-Mousson, on the banks of the river. Then we
moved up into the front-line trenches. We waited in
them about a day and a night until the artillery done
done its work, and it done done it right smart, too.
St. Mihiel, France. And the Big American Drive
started and we went over the top the night of the
1 2th then we took a little town By the name of Nor-
roy and went on to the top of a nother hill Beyond
Early on the morning of the twelfth the guns let
down a most awful heavy barrage, louder than a thun-
derstorm. And at daybreak we went over the top.
We cut our way through the barbed wire and advanced
on the little village of Norroy. But fast as we went
forward the Germans kept on moving backwards,
faster. They jes wouldn't stand and fight it out. Our
battalion was right in the thick of it, and some of the
other companies got mussed up right smart, but ours
never lost a man. I don't know why, but we didn't.
I'm a-thinking the Germans were in too much of a
hurry to take careful aim. There was a-plenty of
machine-gun and artillery fire, but it didn't seem to
find us. I done heard tell that it takes nearly a ton
of lead to kill a man in a war. I kinder believe it.
There were bullets and shells everywhere, but the boys
kept on a-going. None of them fell. There was no
holding that-there League of Nations of ours. They
wanted to push right on and not stop until they got to
Berlin. They cussed the Germans out for not stand-
ing and they kept yelling at them to wait and fight it
out. We continued from Norroy on to the top of the
hill beyond until we got in advance of our own flank
and the Germans were enfilading us. So we was or-
dered by our Captain to dig in until some of the other
troops got up.
When we captured Norroy we mopped up the houses
and went through the town looking for prisoners* A
lot of our boys takened prisoner several barrels of
wine. So they knocked the bungs out of them and
drinked a whole mess of it. Then they were fuller
of fight than ever. And there was one big house there,
all locked up. It looked like headquarters, but when
ST. MIHIEL 209
we done surrounded it and stormed it we found it was
a storehouse and it was full of Belgian hares. These
hares ran all over the place and our boys done chased
them. Tm a-telling you those barrels of wine and
them-there hares shore demoralized my Greeks and
Italians. And when we started back in the night one
of the boys takened a milk goat that was captured and
was leading it back to Pont-a-Mousson, And when the
officer done called to him and asked him what he was
doing with that goat, he answered: "Sir, I am jes going
back to put a little cream in my coffee."
When we dug in the hillside beyond Norroy we
seen a little vineyard. We were very hungry, and
them-there grapes jes natcherly made our mouths
water, So we begun to slip back after the grapes,
but the Germans had an observation balloon, one of
those big sausage balloons, up in the air, and they seed
us and directed the German artillery to tech us off.
So we had orders not to go back there any more. But
that night I decided to go back and get me some of
them grapes. I jes stalked back and was keeping very
quiet so I wouldn't be seen when a shell landed near
and I jumped and ran and I done run right Jnto my
own Captain, Captain Danforth of Augusta, Ga. He
liked grapes, too ho ! ho ! and we both fled.
The Germans threw a lot of gas shells into Norroy,
and we had to wear our gas masks for several hours,
I had be'en made corporal before this battle. So I
led the squad. I kinder think they almost led me. I
mean I was supposed to be in the front and they were
supposed to follow. But no matter how fast I went
they wanted to go faster, so that they could get at the
Germans. The Greeks and Italians, the Poles and the
Jews and the other city boys were still firing pretty
wild. They were still mostly hitting the ground or the
sky. They burned up a most awful lot of Uncle Sam's
ammunition. But they kept on a-going jes the same.
They were that full of fight that wild cats shore would
have backed away from them.
The St. Mihiel offensive must have been as com-
plete a drive and as well arranged as ever could have
been by any general of any army. It was a great suc-
cess. The feeling of the majority of the boys was one
hundred per cent, for General Pershing. As a whole
the Army was back of him, believed in him, and would
follow him anywhere. They seemed to think as a gen-
eral he was a right-smart success. After a few days in
the front lines we were takened out to rest in a little
valley jes back of Pont-a-Mousson. But I never did
hear of that-there goat any more. I don't know
whether the boy got the cream for his coffee or not.
St. Mihiel, France. We come out to some woods
and camped there and got us something to eat*
St. Mihiel, France. We come on back to some
more woods and then we stayed a few days.
St. Mihiel, France. We started for the Argonne
We takened a little narrow gauge railroad to a
place somewhere in France. We didn't know where
it was. I don't think anybody except the officers
knowed that. Here we come upon about one hundred
old French buses. They were big and painted white.
The drivers were Chinese and most of them spoke
French. I done never seen Chinaman before, and I
jes couldn't keep my eyes off them. Some of our boys
afterwards done told the story, I don't know how true
it was, that one of them-there Chinamen kept a-pes-
term* one of our doughboys for a souvenir. The
doughboy took a Mills grenade out of his pocket one
of them pesky little things. You pull the lever and in
five seconds it explodes. Well, he pulled the lever and
then handed it to the Chinaman and told him to put
It to his ear and listen to it tick. Ho ! ho !
Them Chinamen were the awfulest drivers you ever
seed They must have sorter had the idea they had to
get us there before they even started. The way they
done tore and bumped those old French buses over
those old French roads was enough to make your hair
stand up straight. I'm a-thinking we were in more dan-
ger from them than .we were from the Germans when
we were in the front line. Two of the trucks turned
over, but nobody was mussed up bad. It now seemed
to me that we had most all of the nationalities in the
world around, and there were all them-there different
races In my platoon. There were the American-borned
and the foreign-horned boys ; there were the French
and those Chinese drivers and the Germans over the
way. Hit shore was a lot of travelling and meeting
people for a mountain boy who never travelled more'n
a few miles before he left home.
The war brings out the worst in you. It turns you
into a mad, fightin' animal, but it also brings out some-
thing else, something I jes don't know how to describe,
a sort of tenderness and love for the fellows fightin'
with you. It's sort of clean, like a fire of pine logs on
a frosty night. I had kinder got to know and sorter
understand the boys around me. I knowed their weak-
ness as well as their strength. I guess they knowed
mine. If you live together for several months sharing
and sharing alike, you learn a heap about each other.
THE ARGONNE 213
It was as though we could look right through each
other and knowed everything without anything being
hid. I'm a-telling you I loved them-there boys in my
squad. I had forgiven them for their bad shooting.
I had forgiven it if they drank and tore things up be-'
fore going to the front. Anyway, that was their own
business. It was no affair of mine. If they got hap-
piness that way, it was all right with me. I guess they
sorter figured they were going to be mussed up and
maybe killed when they got into the trenches, so they
figured they might jes as well enjoy things while they
had the chance. If that's the way they figured it out,
it was all right with me. If they cussed a whole lot,
I don't think they meant it to be as bad as it sounded.
It was their own way of expressing themselves; that's
all. Even if a fellow doesn't drink or smoke or cuss,
like me for instance, he has no right to find fault with
others, provided they don't interfere with him* He
has no right to pass judgment, and I didn't nohow. I
kinder think away down underneath I sorter loved
them for their weakness most of all. They were my
buddies. That's a word that's only understood by
soldiers who have lived under the same blankets, gath-
ered around the same chow can, and looked at death
together. I never knowed I loved my brother-man so
mucli until I was a doughboy. I knowed men could
be strong and rough, but I never understood before
that they could be so tender and loving, and I jes
couldn't baar to think of anything happenin' to them.
It was too awful to think of them-there boys being
wounded or killed. I kinder did a lot of thinking and
praying about these things as we moved out into the
Argonne. Somehow, I seemed to jes know that we
were going to get into it right, in them-there woods.
Zona Woods, France. We camped over night on
a high hill in the woods.
Argonne Forest, France. We had went on into
the Argonne Woods where we stayed over night.
The battle of the Argonne started the night of
the 25th of September, but we were sorter in re-
serve. We camped each night well back in the woods
and moved up a little bit at a time. At first we no-
ticed the woods hadn't been shot up much. We hadn't
reached the main battlegrounds. But as we got closer,
I'm a-telling you we knowed there was a war on. The
woods were all mussed up and the ground was all torn
up with shells.
Argonne Forest, France. We went out on the
main road and lined up and started for the front
and the germans was shelling the road and airo-
planes was humming over our heads and we were
stumbling over dead horses and dead men and shells
were Bursting all around me and then it was that I
could see the Power of God helped man if he would
THE ARGONNE 215
only trust him. Oh It was there I could look up and
O Jesus, the great rock of foundation
Where on my feet were set with sovereign grace;
Through Shells or Death with all their agitation
Thou wilt protect me if I will only trust in thy Grace
Bless thy holy name.
Argonne Forest, France. We layed in some lit-
tle holes on the roadside all Day that night we went
and stayed a little while and come Back to our lit-
tle holes and the Shells Bursting all around us. I
seen men just Blowed up By the Big German Shells
Which Were Bursting all a round us. So the order
came for us to take hill 223 and 240 the 8th.
It was raining a little bit all day, kinder drizzly
and very damp. Lots of big shells bursting all around
us. We were not up close enough for the machine
guns to reach us, but airplanes were buzzing overhead
'most all the time, jes like a lot of hornets. Lots of
men were killed by the artillery fire. And lots were
wounded. We seed quite a lot of our machine-gun bat-
talion across the road from us blowed up by the big
shells. The woods wete all mussed up and looked as
if a terrible cyclone done swept through them. But
God would never be cruel enough to create a cyclone as
terrible as that Argonne battle. Only man would ever
think of doing an awful thing like that. It looked like
the "Abomination of Desolation" must have been.
And all through the long night those big guns flashed
and growled jes like the lightning and the thunder
when it storms in the mountains at home. And oh,
my ! we had to pass the wounded. And some of them
were on stretchers going back to the dressing stations
and some of them were lying around moaning and
twitching. And oh, my I the dead were all along the
road and their mouths were open and their eyes, too,
but they couldn't see nothing no more nohow. And it
was wet and cold and damp. And it all made me
think of the Bible and the story of the anti-Christ and
Armageddon. And I'm a-telling you the little log
cabin in Wolf Valley in old Tennessee seemed a long,
long way off.
THE ARGONNE FIGHT
Argonne Forest, France. So the morning of the
8th just before daylight we started for the hill at
Chatel Chehery. So before we got there it got
light and the germans sent over a heavy Barrage
and also gas and we put on our gas mask and just
Pressed right on through those shells and got to
the top of hill 223 to where we was to start over
the top at 6 :io A.M.
All day long on October 7th we laid out there In
the rain and the mud along the main army road run-
ning from Varennes to Fleville, and watching the at-
tack of the First Battalion, which takened Hill 223
in the afternoon. Shells were bursting all around and
a whole heap of stray bullets were buzzing through
the air. Airplanes were fighting overhead. It was all
Through most of the night we laid out there, too.
It was that dark you couldn't see nothing nohow.
Lights were flashing from the gun fire. There were
all sorts of sounds and noises. It was raining worse'n
than ever. The ground was soft and mucky and all
cut up. We were wet through and dirty and kinder
2i8 SERGEANT YORK
tired. About 3 A.M. in the morning, the morning of
October 8th, our Captain, Captain Danforth, comedo
us and told us we were to move on to Hill 223, which
was to be the jumping-off place for our attack, which
was to be at daybreak. Our objective was the Decau-
ville Railroad, which was about three kilometres to
the northwest of the hill, and further on almost in the
centre of the Argonne Forest. We were to bust that
old railroad so as to stop the Germans from sending
in their troops and supplies. With the Captain lead-
ing, we marched over the Aire River on a little shaky,
wooden bridge which the engineers had thrown up for
us, on through the town of Chatel Chehery and on
up to Hill 223. It was so dark and everything was
so mussed up and the going was so rough that it was
most awful hard to keep contact and to find the hill.
But we done kept on a-going jes the same. We were
marching, I might say floundering around, in column
of squads. The noise were worse than ever, and every-
body was shouting through the dark, and nobody
seemed to be able to hear what anybody else said.
We should have reached the hill before daybreak.
But we didn't. It weren't nobody's fault. The going
was too tough. So as soon as they were able to see the
German artillery lit into us with a heap of big stuff.
One of their shells bust plumb in the middle of one of
our squads, and wounded or killed every man. They
done laid down the meanest kind of a barrage too, and
the air was jes full of gas. But we put on our masks
and kept plugging and slipping and sliding, or falling
into holes and tripping over all sorts of things and
THE ARGONNE FIGHT 219
getting up again and stumbling on for a few yards and
then going down again, until we done reached the hill.
The First Battalion had takened it the day before, but
they hadn't mopped it up. And there were some
snipers and German machine guns left there hidden in
the brush and in fox holes.
And they sniped at us a whole heap. I guess we
must have run over the top of some of them, too, be-
cause a little later on we were getting fire from the
rear. We were to go over the top at 6:10 A.M. and
push on across the valley and work our way across
the ridges to that-there old railroad. The Captain's
orders was for two of our platoons to go over the top
first and advance as a front wave with the other two
platoons in support following about one hundred yards
behind the front wave. I was in the left supporting
platoon. Hit was the extreme left of our division and
was supposed to keep contact with the Twenty-eighth
Division, which was on our left, but we never did
see anything of them all that morning. I guess they
must have run into some awful tough fighting and been
held up for a while.
Well, at the zero hour, which was 6:io A.M., with
fixed bayonets, we done went over the top, as ordered.
Argonne Forest, France. And they was to give
us a Barrage. So the time came and no Barrage
and we had to go with out one. So we started over
the top at 6 :io A.M. and the germans was Putting
220 SERGEANT YORK
their machine guns to working all over the hill in
front of us and on our left and right. So I was
in suport and I could see my pals getting picked off
until it almost looked like there was none left.
I don't know what happened to our artillery sup-
port, but we didn't get none nohow, except from a
lieutenant from the Third Battalion. He done stood
near six-foot-six tall. And he come up on top of the
hill, dragging what looked like a toy cannon with him.
It was a trench mortar. He did the best he could with
it, hut it didn't help much nohow. The Germans met
our charge across the valley with a regular sleet storm
of bullets. I'm a-telling you that-there valley was a
death trap. It was a triangular-shaped valley with
steep ridges covered with brush, and swarming with
machine guns on all sides. I guess our two waves
got about halfway across and then jes couldn't get no
further nohow. The Germans done got us and they
done got us right smart. They jes stopped us in our
tracks. Their machine guns were up there on the
heights overlooking us and well hidden, and we
couldn't tell for certain where the terrible heavy fire
was coming from. It 'most seemed as though it was
coming from everywhere. I'm a-telling you they were
shooting straight, and our boys jes done went down
like the long grass before the mowing machine at
home. Our attacks jes faded out.
We had to lie down flat on our faces and dig in.
And there we were out there in the valley all mussed
up and unable to get any further with no barrage to
THE ARGONNE FIGHT 221
help us, and that-there German machine-gun fire and
all sorts of big shells and gas cutting us to pieces.
There was scarcely none of our front wave left Lieu-
tenant Stewart, who was leading the platoon in front
of where I was lying, went down with a shot through
the leg, but got up again and rallied the few men he
had left and led them forward until he fell dead with
a bullet through the head. I couldn't see Captain
Danforth. He was on the other side of the hill on the
right. I could hear shells and machine guns there, too,
and I knowed he was getting it jes as bad as we was.
The German machine guns had done stopped our
attack. We jes couldn't go on. We could scarcely
even lift up our heads as we laid flat on the ground.
But all the time we knowed we had to get through to
that railroad somehow. We jes had to.
About this time we figured that the worstest ma-
chine-gun fire was coming from a ridge over on our
left front. We knowed then that them-there machine
guns would have to be put out of action before the
advance could go on. We also knowed that there was
so many of them and they were in such commanding
positions that a whole battalion couldn't put them out
of action nohow by a frontal attack. I doubt if a
whole division could get to them that way. But they
had to be takened somehow.
Our platoon sergeant, Harry M. Parsons, from
Brooklyn, N. Y M done exposed himself again and
again, trying to locate exactly where the machine guns
over there on the left front were firing from. He
hadn't no chance nohow of getting in touch with the
222 SERGEANT YORK
Captain. He had to use his own judgment. He done
done it. He ordered the left half of our platoon to
cra^d. back a little and try and work out way down
around on the left and then push on through the heavy
underbrush and try and jump the machine guns from
the rear. He didn't know how many of them there
were. He didn't know for sure where they were hid.
But he figured it was the only chance. So three squads
of us done dropped back and made our way around on
the left. Sergeant Bernard Early was in charge and
Corporal Murray Savage and Corporal William Cut-
ting and myself each led our squads. The privates
under us were :
So you see there were just seventeen of us.
Argonne Forest, France. So there was 17 of us
Boys went around on the left flank to see if we
couldnt put those guns out of action.
THE ARGONNE FIGHT 223
According to orders, we got around on the left and
in single file advanced forward through the brush
towards where we could hear the machine-gun, fire.
We done went very quietly and quickly. We had to.
We kept well to the left and deep in the brush. At
first we didn't see any Germans and we were not under
heavy fire. Jes a few stray bullets. Without any loss
and in right-smart time we done skirted the left side of
the valley and were over on the hill somewhere near
where the German machine guns were placed. The
heavy brush and the hilly nature of the country hid
us from the enemy. We were now nearly three hun-
dred yards to the left and in front of our own front
line* When we figured that we were right on the ridge
that the Germans were on, we done stopped for a
minute and had a little conference. Some of the boys
wanted to attack from the flank. But Early and me
and some of the others thought it would be best to
keep on going until we were well behind the German
lines, and then suddenly swing in and try and jump
them from the rear. We done decided to try and
do this. We opened up in skirmishing order and
sorter flitted from brush to brush, using all the cover
we could and pushing on as fast as possible. We had
now sorter encircled the German left end and were
going away in deep behind them without them knowing
anything about it,
Argonne Forest, France. So when we went
a round and fell in Be hind those guns we first seen
to eermans with a Red Cross Band on their arm.
224 SERGEANT YORK
So we ask them to stop and they did not so some
one of the Boys shot at them and they run Back
to our right So we all run after them . . .
They jumped out of the brush in front of us and
run like two scared rabbits. We called to them to
surrender, and one of our boys done fired and missed.
And they kept on a-going. And we kept on after
them. We wanted to capture them before they gave
the alarm. We now knowed by the sounds of the
firing that we were somewhere behind the German
trench and in the rear of the machine guns that were
holding up our big advance. We still couldn't see the
Germans and they couldn't see us. But we could hear
them machine guns shooting something awful. Sav-
age's squad was leading, then mine, and then Cutting's.
Sergeant Early was out in front, leading the way.
Argonne Forest, France. . . . And when we
jumped across a little stream of water that was there
they was a Bout 15 or 20 Germans jumped up and
throwed up their hands and said Comrade So the
one in charge of us Boys told us not to shoot they
was going to give up any way.
. It was headquarters. There were orderlies, stretch-
erbearers, runners, a major and two officers sitting or
standing around a sort of small wooden shack. They
seemed to be having a sort of conference. And they
done jes had breakfast too. And there was a mess
THE ARGONNE FIGHT 225
of beefsteaks, jellies, jams, and loaf bread around.
They were unarmed. All except the major. And
some of them were in their shirt sleeves. By the way
they were going on we knowed they never even
dreamed that there were any Americans near them.
Of course, we were 'most as surprised as they were,
coming on them so sudden. But we kept our heads
and jumped them right smart, and covered them and
told them to put up their hands and to keep them up.
And they done done it. And we fired a few shots
just to sorter impress them. I guess they thought
the whole American Army was in their rear. And
we didn't stop to tell them any different. Sergeant
Early, who was in command of us, told us to hold
our fire, as we had them, but to keep them covered
and to hurry up and search and line them up. Just
as he was turning around from giving this order and
we were moving forward to obey, some machine guns
up on the hill in front of us and between us and the
American lines, suddenly turned around and opened
fire on us. Early went down with five bullets through
the lower part of his body and one through his arm.
Corporal Savage was killed. He must have had over
a hundred bullets in his body. His clothes were 'most
all shot off. And Corporal Cutting was also all shot
up. Six of the other boys were killed or wounded.
That machine-gun burst came sorter sudden and un-
expected. And it done got us hard. The moment it
begun the German prisoners fell flat on their faces.
So did the rest of us American boys who were still
standing. You see, while we were capturing head-
22 6 SERGEANT YORK
quarters the German machine gunners up there on the
hill seed us and done turned their guns around and let
us have it*
After the first few bursts a whole heap of other
machine guns joined in. There must have been over
twenty of them and they kept up a continuous fire.
Never letting up. Thousands of bullets kicked up the
dust all around us. The undergrowth was cut down
like as though they used a scythe. The air was just
plumb full of death. Some of our boys done huddled
up against the prisoners and so were able to get some
protection and at the same time guard the prisoners.
Some others crawled under cover, or jumped up and
got behind trees. I was caught out in the open,^a
little bit to the left and in front of the group of pris-
oners and about twenty-five yards away from the
machine guns which were in gun pits and trenches
upon the hillside above me. I was now in charge.
Argonne Forest, France. So by this time some
of the Germans from on the hill was shooting at
us. Well I was giving them the Best I had and by
this time the Germans had got their machine guns
turned around and fired on us so they killed 6 and
wounded 3. So that just left 8 and then we got
into it right By this time So we had a hard Battle
for a little while . . .
But I hadn't time to give no orders nohow. There
was such a noise and racket all around that I would
THE ARGONNE FIGHT 227
not have been heard even if I had done given them,
I had no time nohow to do nothing but watch them-
there German machine gunners and give them the best
1 had. Every time I seed a German I jes teched him
off. At first I was shooting from a prone position;
that is lying down; jes like we often shoot at the
targets in the shooting matches in the mountains of
Tennessee; and it was jes about the same distance.
But the targets here were bigger. I jes couldn't miss
a German's head or body at that distance. And I
didn't. Besides, it weren't no time to miss nohow. I
knowed that in order to shoot me the Germans would
have to get their heads up to see where I was lying.
And I knowed that my only chance was to keep their
heads down. And I done done it I covered their
positions and let fly every time I seed anything to
shoot at. Every time a head come up I done k&ocked
Then they would sorter stop for a moment and
then another head would come up and I would knock
it down, too. I was giving them the best I had. I
was right out in the open and the machine guns were
spitting fire and cutting up all around me something
awful. But they didn't seem to be able to hit me.
All the time the Germans were shouting orders. You
never heard such a racket in all of your life. I still
hadn't time or a chance to look around for the other
boys. I didn't know where they were now. I didn't
know what they were doing. I didn't even know if
they were still living. Later on they done said that in
the thick of the fight they didn't fire a shot.
228 SERGEANT YORK
Of course, all of this only took a few minutes. As
soon as I was able I stood up and begun to shoot off-
hand, which is my favourite position. 1 was still
sharpshooting with that-there old army rifle. I used
up several clips. The barrel was getting hot and my
rifle ammunition was running low, or was where it was
hard for me to get at it quickly. But I had to keep on
shooting jes the same.
In the middle of the fight a German officer and five
men done jumped out of a trench and charged me with
fixed bayonets. They had about twenty-five yards to
come and they were coming right smart. I only had
about half a clip left in my rifle; but I had my pistol
ready. I done flipped it out fast and teched them off,
I teched off the sixth man first; then the fifth; then
the fourth; then the third; and so on. That's the way
we shoot wild turkeys at home. You see we don't:
want the front ones to know that we're getting the
back ones, and then they keep on coming until we get
them all. Of course, I hadn't time to think of that.
I guess I jes naturally did it. I knowed, too, that if
the front ones wavered, or if I stopped them the rear
ones would drop down and pump a volley into me
and get me.
Then I returned to the rifle, and kept right on after
those machine guns. I knowed now that if I done
kept my head and didn't run out of ammunition I had
them. So I done hollered to them to come down and
give up. I didn't want to kill any more'n I had to.
I would tech a couple of them off and holler again.
THE ARGONNE FIGHT 229
But I guess they couldn't understand my language, or
else they couldn't hear me in the awful racket that
was going on all around. Over twenty Germans were
killed by this time.
Argonne Forest, France. . . . and I got hold
of a german magor and he told me if I wouldn't
kill any more of them he would make them quit
firing. So I told him alright if he would do it now.
so he blew a little whistle and they quit shooting
and come down and give up.
I think he had done been firing at me while I was
fighting the machine guns I examined his pistol later
and sure enough hit was empty. Jes the same, he
hadn't pestered me nohow. After he seed me stop the
six Germans who charged with fixed bayonets he got
up off the ground and walked over to me and yelled
I said, "No, not English."
He said, "What?"
I said, "American."
He said, "Good Lord!" Then he said, "If
you won't shoot any more I will make them give
I told him he had better. I covered him with my
automatic and told him if he didn't make them stop
firing I would take his head next. And he knowed I
meaned it. So he blowed a little whistle and they
come down out of the trench and throwed down their
2 3 o SERGEANT YORK
guns and equipment and held up their hands and begun
to gather around. I guess, though, one of them
thought he could get me. He had his hands up all
right. But he done had a little hand grenade con-
cealed, and as he come up to me he throwed it right
at my head. But it missed me and wounded one of
the prisoners. I hed to tech him off. The rest sur-
rendered without any more trouble. There must have
been about fifty of them.
Argonne Forest, France. So we had about 80
or 90 Germans there disarmed and had another
line of Germans to go through to get out. So I
called for my men and one of them answered from
behind a big oak tree and the others were on my
right in the brush so I said lets get these germans
out of here. So one of my men said it is impossible
so I said no lets get them out. So when my men
said that this german magor said how many have
you got and I said I have got a plenty and pointed
my pistol at him all the time in this battle I was
using a rifle or a 45 Colts automatic pistol. So I
lined the germans up in a line of twos and got
between the ones in front and I had the german
magor before me. So I marched them straight
into those other machine guns and I got them.
The German major could speak English as well as
I could. Before the war he used to work in Chicago.
When the prisoners in the first trench surrendered I
THE ARGONNE FIGHT 231
yelled out to my men to let's get them out. And one
of my men said it was impossible to get so many pris-
oners back to the American lines. And I told him to
shut up and to let's get them out. Then the German
major became suspicious and wanted to know how
many men I had. And I told him I had a-plenty.
And I told him to keep his hands up and to line up
his men in a column of two and to do it in double
time. And he did it. And I lined up my men that
were left on either side of the column and I told one
to guard the rear.
Sergeant Early and Corporal Cutting then come up
towards me. Corporal Cutting said: "I am hit and hit
bad." He was wounded in the arm. He done had all
the buttons shot off his uniform and there was a great
big "X" shot in his helmet. Sergeant Early said:
"York, I am shot and shot bad. What shall I do ?" I
knowed by the look of him that he was very badly
wounded. He was dazed and in most awful pain. I
done told them they could come out in the rear of our
column with the other boys.
I ordered the prisoners to pick up and carry our
wounded. I wasn't a-goin' to leave any good Ameri-
can boys lying out there to die. So I made the Ger-
mans carry them. And they did. And I takened the
major and placed him at the head of the column and
I got behind him and used him as a screen. I poked
the Colt in his back and told him to hike. And he
hiked. I guess I had him bluffed. It was pretty hard
to tell in the brush and with all the noise and con-
fusion around which way to go. The major done
FACSIMILE PAGES FROM
Throughout his war days Sergeant York kept a diary. At home
holes and trenches at the front, he scribbled in and kept *t UP to
of the original diary* he tells the story of his fight with the
SERGEANT YORK'S DIARY
in die training camps, on the crowded transports and in the fox
date. In these two pages which are word for word reproduction*
guna in the Argonne.
234 SERGEANT YORK
suggested we go down the gully. Then I knowed that
was the wrong way. And I told him we were not
going down any gully. We were going straight
through the German front-line trenches back to the
American lines. It was their second line that I had
captured. We sure did get a long way behind the
German trenches. And so I done marched them
straight at that old German front-line trench. And
some more machine guns swung around to fire. I
told the major to blow his whistle or I would take his
head and theirs too. So he blowed his whistle and
they all done surrendered. All except one. I made
the major order him to surrender twice. But he
wouldn't. And I had to tech him off. I hated to do
It, I've been doing a tol'able lot of thinking about
it since. He was probably a brave soldier boy. But
I couldn't afford to take any chance, and so I had
to let him have it. There was considerably over a
hundred prisoners now. It was a problem to get them
back safely to our own lines. There was so many of
them there was danger of our own artillery mistaking
us for a German counter-attack and opening up on us.
I sure was relieved when we run into the relief squads
that had been sent forward through the brush to help
Argonne Forest, France. So when I got back
to my magors P.C. I had 132 prisoners.
We marched those German prisoners on back into
the American lines to the Battalion P. C. and there
THE ARGONNE FIGHT 235
we come to the Intelligence Department and Lieu-
tenant Woods come out and counted them and counted
132. We were ordered to take them out to Regi-
mental Headquarters at Chatel Chehery; and from
there all the way back to Division Headquarters and
turn them over to the Military Police. We had such
a mess of German prisoners that nobody seemed to
want to take them over. So we had to take them
back a right-far piece ourselves.
On the -way back we were constantly under heavy
shell fire and I had to double-time them to get them
through safely. There was nothing to be gained by
having any more of them wounded or killed. They
done surrendered to me and it was up to me to look
after them. And so I done done it. I had orders to
report to Brigadier General Lindsay, our brigadier
commander, and he said to me, "Well, York, I hear
you have captured the whole damned German army."
And I told him I only had 132.
OFFICIAL STORY OF FIGHT
I DIDN'T want to kill a whole heap of Germans
nohow. I didn't hate them. But I done it jes the
same. I had to. I was cornered. It was either them
or me, and I'm a-telling you I didn't and don't want
to die nohow if I can live. If they done surrendered
as I wanted them to when I hollered to them first, and
kept on hollering to them, I would have given them
the protection that I give "them later when I tuk them
back. But they wouldn't surrender, and there was no
way out for me but to tech them off.
Jes the same I have tried to forget. I have never
talked about it much. I have never told the story
even to my own mother. For years I done refused
to write about it for the newspapers, and wasn't at
all pleased when others wrote about it.
But now that the story is coming out I want it to
come out right, and I want everything brought out.
Everything. There were others in that fight besides
me. Some of them, Sergeant Early for instance, and
others too, played a right-smart part in things until
they were shot down, I'm a-telling you they're en-
titled to a whole heap of credit. It, isn't for me, of
course, to decide how much credit they should get*
OFFICIAL STORY OF FIGHT 237
But jes the same, I'm a-telling you a heap of those
boys were heroes and America ought to be proud of
So, I'm a-going to publish the documents and Fin
a-going to do it right here. They speak for them-
I might add that if there are any differences in
them it is kinder well to remember that no two people
ever see the same thing alike. It is also true that
people who are not trained to write down what they
have seed and been through and most of thern-there
boys were not trained that way ain't always in agree-
ment when they write about the same thing. Jes the
same, the documents give a right-smart account of the
goings-on in the forest that awful morning.
Most all of the documents are copied from the
originals in the War Department in Washington, or
in the possession of Major George Edward Buxton,
Jr., the official historian of the Eighty-second Division.
Here is the account of Captain Danforth, our com-
pany commander, of what he knowed of the fight :
At 6 A.M* on the morning of October 8, 1918, the
2d Battalion, 328th Infantry, attacked from Hill 223,
in the direction ten degrees north of west, with its
objective, the Decauville Railroad, about three kilo-
metres away. The battalion had moved into the
Argonne sector with other units of the 82d Division
on the night of October 6th and 7th. All day of
October 7th we lay along the main Army road, run-
ning from Varennes to Fleville, and watched the attack
238 SERGEANT YORK
of the ist Battalion, which in the early afternoon
gained the height of Hill 223.
About 3 A.M., October 8th, the regimental com-
mander sent for the company commanders of the 2d
Battalion and issued instructions for the attack of the
battalion to be made from Hill 223 at 6 A.M. I was
in command of Company G of this battalion and
immediately upon receiving these instructions began
moving my company across the Aire River to the
designated jump-off line on Hill 223.
I reached this hill at 5:50 A.M. and deployed my
company for assault in two waves, two platoons in the
front wave and two platoons in the supporting wave.
The left support platoon was commanded by Ser-
geant Harry M. Parsons, one of his corporals being
Alvin C York.
At zero hour we began the advance, moving down
the slope of Hill 223 and across the five-hundred-yard
open valley toward a steep wooded hill to our imme-
diate front On our right was E Company, 328th
Infantry; on our left Unit 5 of the 28th Division,
though throughout the entire day we had no contact
whatsoever with these troops on our left.
Upon reaching about the centre of this valley we
were stopped by a withering fire of machine guns from
the front, from the unscalable heights of the Cham-
procher Ridge on our right and from a heavily wooded
hill on the left. From this point the advance was
very slow, the men moving by rushes from shell hole
to shell hole a few feet at a time. At some time dur-
ing the morning the fire from the left flank slackened
OFFICIAL STORY OF FIGHT 239
and we were enabled to gain the hill to our immediate
front, capturing a great many machine guns and
driving the enemy to the west. During the progress
of the fighting across this valley, I was with the assault
waves and gave no orders for the employment of the
support platoons, which had been ordered to follow
at three hundred yards.
About noon I left the assault wave and with one
runner returned to bring up my support platoons,
running into a group of forty-four Germans in the
edge of the woods just outside our left flank, which
group surrendered to my runner and me without firing
a shot at us. I sent these prisoners to the rear, located
my support platoons, returned with them to the front
lines, and at 4 P.M. continued the advance to the corps
objective with the other companies of the 2d Bat-
talion. This objective the Decauville Railroad we
took about 5 P.M. With the handful of men that were
left we organized a position and held it throughout
the night of October 8th and 9th.
On the morning of October gth at about ten o'clock
Corporal York with seven men reported to me on
the railroad. Corporal York, when questioned about
his whereabouts and activities during the previous
day's fighting, said that he had been sent with a de-
tachment to silence some machine gun nests on the
left of the valley, that this detachment had become
heavily engaged, losing half its strength, and that he
had captured about one hundred and fifty prisoners.
He stated that all non-commissioned officers of the
detachment had been killed or wounded, that he had
taken command and had shot a number of Germans
during the engagement and that he had carried his
prisoners from headquarters to headquarters, finally
delivering them to the military police many miles to
the rear. His statement to me on the morning of
October 9th was the first time that I knew anything
of his fight on our left flank and offered the best ex-
planation of why the fire from that pgint had slack-
ened on the morning of the 8th.
After coming out of the lines I fully investigated
this detachment's fight and recommended Corporal
York for the Distinguished Service Cross and later,
after a more careful study, for the Congressional
Medal of Honour,
E. C. B. DANFORTH, JR,
While Captain Danforth was fighting hard to lead
the front wave forward, our own platoon commander,
Sergeant Harry M, Parsons, was left in charge of us
boys on the extreme left:
State of New York,
County of Kings.
Harry Parsons of the City of New York and
County of Kings, State of New York, being duly
sworn, deposes and says:
I was the platoon sergeant of the ist Platoon, G
Company, 2d Battalion, 328th Infantry, 82d Divi-
sion; we had no commissioned officer, and I was in
charge of the platoon. The platoon was made up
of Greeks, Slavs, Swedes, Jews, Irish, Germans, and
Italians, all American citizens, of course. There were
OFFICIAL STORY OF FIGHT 241
also a number of farmers and a few mountaineers,
one of whom was Alvin C. York. On the morning of
October 8, 1918, we marched through the town of
Chatel Chehery, and up on to Hill 223, where we
waited for the zero hour. Without artillery support
we went over the top at about daylight. Our platoon
was upon the extreme left flank of the division, and
was in the second wave, about one hundred yards in
the rear of the first. The Germans quickly opened
on us with machine guns, securely entrenched in the
ridges and brush on our front and left flank. Our first
line was mowed down; Lieutenant Stewart was killed
and the survivors were forced to dig in. The machine-
gun fire was something terrible. If the advance was
to be continued, somehow or other the machine guns
would have to be put out; and I knew the advance had
to be continued at all costs. Our company com-
mander. Captain Danforth, was over on the right,
on the other side of the hill, fighting against desperate
odds. I had no opportunity of getting in touch with
him and he had no chance whatever of getting over to
us. But I figured at all cost the machine guns had to
be silenced. It was an awful responsibility for a non-
commissioned officer to order his men to go to what
looked to be certain death. But I figured it had to
be done. I figured they had a slight chance of getting
the machine guns. So I made the decision and I
now know that it was the wisest decision I ever made.
I ordered the left half of my platoon, what remained
of four squads, to deploy through the heavy brush on
the left and work their way over the ridges to where
242 SERGEANT YORK
the German machine guns were firing and then at-
tack the machine guns and put them out of commis-
sion. Sergeant Early was in charge of the four sec-
tions, and Corporal York, Corporal Cutting, and Cor-
poral Savage were in charge of the squads. The thir-
teen private soldiers were privates Dymowski, Wiley,
Waring, Wins, Swanson, Muzzi, Beardsley, Konotski,
Sok, Johnson, Sacina, Donahue, and Wills. Lead by
Sergeant Early, as ordered, the men immediately ad-
vanced through the brush on our left flank and dis-
appeared. A few minutes later we heard heavy firing
from the direction which they had taken; and shortly
after the German machine-gun fire ceased. It was
after this that Corporal York and seven privates re-
turned with 132 German prisoners. Corporal York
marched in front of the prisoners and was in absolute
command. Unquestionably, the silencing of these
machine guns played a tremendous part in our success
in finally reaching our objective.
HARRY MASON PARSONS.
Subscribed and sworn to before
me this the ist day of May 1928.
Bessie M. Swan, Notary Public
My commission expires on the
2pth day of March, 1929.
Here is Sergeant Bernard Early's own account of
how he led us behind the ^erman lines :
Bernard Early of the City and County of New
Haven, State of Connecticut, being duly sworn, de-
poses and says:
OFFICIAL STORY OF FIGHT 243
As senior non-commissioned officer in charge of the
left half of ist Platoon, G Company, 2d Battalion,
328th Infantry, 82d Division, on the morning of
October 8, 1918, I led what remained of our squads,
totalling seventeen men, from the valley under Hill
223 in the Argonne Forest around our left flank in
an attempt to silence German machine guns which were
holding up my battalion's advance to the Decauville
Railroad which was our objective*
My command was on the extreme left of our divi-
sion. I led my men through the thick undergrowth
about half a mile toward where we figured the German
machine guns were. Then I decided to swing in behind
and attack them from the rear. On account of the
nature of the country the Germans were unable to see
us, just as we were unable to see them. So far we
had no casualties. When we were well behind the
German lines, we surprised a German stretcher bearer
who immediately ran and we trailed him through the
undergrowth deeper in behind the German lines.
We jumped a little stream and suddenly unex-
pectedly discovered the headquarters of a German
machine-gun regiment* There must have been at
least one hundred Germans, including three officers and
several non-commissioned officers. There were also
runners, orderlies, and others. They were having
breakfast and we completely surprised them. We
fired several shots to intimidate them and rushed them
with fixed bayonets. I was out in front leading them
and, seeing the Germans throwing up their hands, I
ordered my men to cease fire and to cover and close
244 SERGEANT YORK
in on them. I then ordered my men to line them up
preparatory to marching them back to our P. C
In the act of turning around issuing this order, a
burst of machine gun bullets struck me. I fell with
one bullet through my arm and five through the lower
part of my body. I called on Corporal Cutting to
take command and get the prisoners out and if pos-
sible later on come back and get me.
A little later Corporal Cutting was wounded and
Corporal York took command.
I was carried back with the German prisoners to
our first-aid station. There I was operated on and
some of the bullets were taken out and I was sent
to the hospital.
This statement was read to Bernard Early after
being taken and he stated the same was correct.
State of Connecticut ^
County of New Haven j
New Haven, April n, 1928
I certify that the above is the statement made by
Bernard Early of said City and County of New
Haven, State of Connecticut, to which he made oath,
LEWIS L. FIELD,
Commissioner of the Superior
Court for New Haven County.
Here is the official affidavit of Private
OFFICIAL STORY OF FIGHT 245
2d Bn. 328th Inf.
82d Div. American E. F.
Frettes, France, Feb. 21, 1919.
Affidavit of Private Percy (1,910,246) Beardsley.
Personally appeared before me the undersigned,
Private Percy (1,910,246) Beardsley, first being duly
sworn according to law, says that he was present with
Sergeant Alvin C. (1,910,426) York, northwest of
Chatel Chehery on the morning of October 8, 1918,
and testified to the distinguished personal courage,
self-sacrifice, and presence of mind of Sergeant Alvin
C. (1,910,426) York, as follows:
On the morning of the 8th of October, 1918, Ser-
geant York was a corporal in G Company, 328th In-
fantry, and I was a member of his squad. Our bat-
talion, the zd Battalion of the 328th Infantry, was
attacking the ridge northwest of Chatel Chehery.
The battalion had to manoeuvre across the valley under
heavy machine-gun fire which came from our right and
left as well as in front of us. Very heavy fire came
from a hill on our left flank. Sergeant Parsons was
our platoon leader and he told acting Sergeant Early
to take three squads and go over and clean out the
machine guns that were shooting at our left flank.
He circled the hill first in a southerly and then in a
southwesterly direction until the noise of the machine
guns sounded as if the guns were between us and our
battalion. We went down the west slope of the hill
into a ravine filled with heavy underbrush and there
found two Germans and fired at one of them when
he refused to halt. We were following the one who
246 SERGEANT YORK
ran and came onto a battalion of Germans grouped
together on the bottom and slope of the hill. Those
nearest us were surprised, and, thinking they were
surrounded, started to surrender, but a lot of machine
gunners halfway up the hill turned their machine guns
on us, killing six and wounding three of our detach-
ment. All three of our other non-commissioned offi-
cers were shot and there was left only Corporal York
and seven privates. We were up against a whole bat-
talion of Germans and it looked pretty hopeless for us.
We were scattered out in the brush, some were guard-
ing a bunch of Germans who had begun to surrender,
and three or four of us fired two or three shots at the
line of Germans on the hillside. The German machine
gunners kept up a heavy fire, as did the German rifle-
men on the hillside with the machine gunners. The
Germans could not hit us without endangering the
prisoners whom we had taken at the very first. A
storm of bullets was passing just around and over us.
Corporal York was nearest the enemy and close up to
the bottom of the hilL He fired rapidly with rifle and
pistol until he had shot down a German officer and
many of his men. The officer whom Corporal York
shot was leading a charge of some' riflemen with
bayonets fixed down the hillside toward us. Finally
the German battalion commander surrendered to Cor-
poral York, who called the seven privates remaining
up to him and directed us to place ourselves along the
middle and rear of the column of prisoners, which we
assisted him in forming. When we moved out some
Germans on a near-by hill continued to fire at us.
OFFICIAL STORY OF FIGHT 247
Corporal York was at the head of the column where
he placed two German officers in front of him. A
considerable number of German prisoners were taken
on our way back over the hill. Corporal York made
them surrender by having the German battalion com-
mander call to them to give themselves up.
PRIVATE PERCY BEARDSLEY.
Sworn to and subscribed before
me at Frettes, France, this 26th
day of February, 1919.
Edwin A. Buckhalter,
ist Lieut. 328 Inf. Bn. Adjt.
Private George W. Wills, first being duly sworn,
according to law, also signed exactly the same docu-
ment, word for word.
Here is the official affidavit of Private Joseph
American E. F.
February 6, 1919.
Affidavit of Private Joseph (1,910,336) Konotski
(his X mark).
Personally appeared before me the undersigned
Private Joseph (1,910,336) Konotski, who, first being
duly sworn according to law, says that he was present
with Sergeant Alvin C. (1,910,426) York, west of
Chatel Chehery, on the morning of October 8, 1918,
and testified to the distinguished and personal bravery
and self-sacrifice of Sergeant Alvin C. (1,910,426)
York, as follows:
248 SERGEANT YORK
On the morning of October 8, 1918, west of
Chatel Chehery, Sergeant York performed in action
deeds of most distinguished personal bravery and self-
sacrifice. His platoon had been sent to the left flank
of the assaulting wave, which was then exposed, to
clear out some machine guns. Encountering a large
machine-gun nest, all but seven men of his platoon
were killed or wounded and all non-commissioned offi-
cers, except Sergeant York, who was at that time a
corporal. His comrades had lost hope but Sergeant
York kept his usual balance and self-control. He
rallied the men and closed in on the enemy, using his
rifle as long as he could conveniently reach his ammu-
nition. He then resorted to his pistol with which
he killed and wounded no less than fifteen of the
enemy. After this intense fight Sergeant York suc-
ceeded in taking prisoner the battalion commander.
Then, instructing his seven men, he took the re-
mainder of the enemy prisoners in an exceedingly
tactful manner. In lining the prisoners up preparatory
to taking them to the Battalion P. C, Sergeant York
displayed decided decision by placing the officers at
the head of the column with himself next in line and
the remaining men distributed in the line, making it
impossible for the enemy to kill any of his men with-
out killing a German*
On the way in to the Battalion P. C. a number of
the enemy made their appearance and were taken pris-
oners. When Sergeant York arrived at the Battalion
OFFICIAL STORY OF FIGHT 249
P. C. he turned over 132 prisoners, of whom three
were officers, one being a field officer.
JOSEPH KONOTSKI (his X mark)
Subscribed and sworn to before
me at Frettes, France, this 6th
day of February, 1919.
Edwin A. Burkhalter,
ist Lieut. 328th Inf., Bn. Adjt.
Privates Patrick Donohue, Theodore Sok and Mi-
chael Saccina, first being duly sworn, according to law,
also subscribed to exactly the same document, word
The above two affidavits, together with the state-
ments of Captain Danforth, Sergeant Parsons, and
Sergeant Early have never before been made public.
They are published In this book for the first time.
Major George Edward Buxton, Jr., who was the
first commander of our battalion, and he later on be-
came divisional inspector, also took the affidavits of
Privates Percy Beardsley, Michael A. Saccina, George
W- Wills and Patrick Donohue:
Hq. 82d Div., American E. F., France,
26 January, 1919.
Private Percy (1,910,246) Beardsley, Company G,
328th Infantry, being duly sworn, made the following
On the 8th day of October 1918, I was a member
2 5 o SERGEANT YORK
of Corporal York's squad in G Company, 32 8th In-
fantry. When we were sent under acting-Sergeant
Bernard Early to clean out, the machine guns on our
left, I was following behind Corporal York. I saw two
Red Cross Germans and when they started to run, we
fired at them. One of them stopped and gave himself
up. We followed after the other German and about
twenty paces from where we had first sighted these
two Red Cross Germans, we ran into a bunch of
Germans all together in an underbrush on the slope
of the hill. When we appeared, Germans came run-
ning out of the brush and machine-gun trenches in
every direction. There seemed to be about one hun-
dred of these Germans. Some of them held up their
hands and shouted "Kamerad" and gave themselves
up. A few shots were fired at us and a few men on
our side fired back. After this, all the Germans in
sight stopped firing and came in around us, having
thrown down their arms and equipment. Before we
could line them up in column and move them out, Ger-
man machine gunners, whom we had not seen before
this, commenced firing down the hill at our men. This
fire came mostly from opposite our own right flank.
We had six men killed and three wounded in a very
I was at first near Corporal York, but soon after
thought It would be better to take cover behind a
large tree about fifteen paces in rear of Corporal York.
Privates Dymowski and Waring were on each side of
me and both were killed by machine-gun fire. When
the machine-guia fire on each side of my tree stopped,
OFFICIAL STORY OF FIGHT 251
I came back to where the Germans were and fired rny
pistol two or three times. I saw Corporal York fire
his pistol repeatedly in front of me. After I came
back from the tree I saw Germans who had been hit
fall down. I saw German prisoners who were still
in a bunch -together waving their hands at the machine
gunners on the hill as if motioning for them to go
back. Finally the fire stopped and Corporal York
told us to have the prisoners fall in columns of twos
and for me to take my place in the rear.
This statement was read to Private Beardsley after
being taken, and he stated the same was correct.
I certify that the above is statement made by Private
Percy (1,910,246) Beardsley, Company G 3 328th In-
fantry, to which he made oath before me.
G. EDWARD BUXTON, JR.
Major, Inf., U. S. A.,
Division Historical Officer.
Hq. 82d DIv., American E. F., France.
26 January, 1919.
Private Michael A. (15910,393) Saccina, Company
G, 328th Infantry, being duly sworn, made the fol-
On the 8th day of October, 1918, I was a member
of Corporal Cutting's squad in G Company, 328th
Infantry. When we were sent under acting-Sergeant
Bernard Early to clean out the machine guns on our
left, I was following behind Corporal Cutting. I saw
two Red Cross Germans, and when they started to
run, we fired at them. One of them stopped and gave
252 SERGEANT YORK
himself up. We followed after the other German,
and about twenty paces from where we had first
sighted these two Red Cross Germans, we ran into
a bunch of Germans all together in an underbrush on
the slope of the hill. When we appeared, Germans
came running out of the brush and machine-gun
trenches in every direction. There seemed to be about
one hundred of these Germans. Some of them held
up their hands and shouted "Kamerad" and gave
themselves up. A few shots were fired at us and a
few men on our side fired back. After this, all the
Germans in sight stopped firing and came in around
us, having thrown down their arms and equipment.
Before we could line them up in column and move
them out, German machine gunners, whom we had
not seen before this, commenced firing down the hill
at our men. This fire came mostly from opposite our
own right flank. We had six men killed and three
wounded in a very short time. I fired three shots
when we saw the Germans.
I was guarding the prisoners with my rifle and
bayonet on the right flank of the group of prisoners.
I was so close to these prisoners that the machine
gunners could not shoot at me without hitting their
own men. This, I think, saved me from being hit.
During the firing, I remained on guard watching these
prisoners and unable to turn around and fire myself
for this reason. From where I stood, I could not see
any of the other men in my detachment because they
were hidden from me by the German prisoners. From
this point I saw the German captain and had aimed
OFFICIAL STORY OF FIGHT 253
my rifle at him when he blew his whistle for the Ger-
man firing to stop. The whistle sounded like the
whistle on a peanut stand. I then saw Corporal York,
who called out to us, and when we all joined him, I
saw seven Americans besides myself. These men were
Corporal York, Private Beardsley, Private Donohue,
Private Wills, Private Sok, Private Johnson and Pri-
vate Konotski. The column of prisoners was then
started and we moved out. I was guarding near the
rear of the column. A number of Germans who did
not give themselves up fired at us as we left. We
never captured these men.
This statement 1 was read to Private Saccina after
being taken, and he stated that same was correct.
I certify that the above is statement made by Private
Michael A. (1,910,292) Saccina, Company G, 328th
Infantry, to which he made oath before me.
G. EDWARD BTJXTON, JR.
Major, Inf., U. S. A.,
Division Historical Officer.
Hq. 82d Div., American E. F., France.
26 January, 1919.
Private George W* (1,910,418) Wills, Company
G, 328th Infantry, being duly sworn, made the fol-
On the 8th day of October, 1918, I was a member
of Corporal Cutting's squad in G Company, 328th In-
fantry. When we were sent under acting-Sergeant Ber-
nard Early to clean out the machine guns on our left,
I was following behind Corporal Cutting. I saw two
254 SERGEANT YORK
Red Cross Germans and when they started to run,
we fired at them. One of them stopped and gave
himself up. We followed after the other German
and about twenty paces from where we had first
sighted these two Red Cross Germans, we ran into a
bunch of Germans all together in an underbrush on
the slope of the hill. When we appeared, Germans
came running out of the brush and machine-gun
trenches in every direction. There seemed to be about
one hundred of these Germans. Some of them held
up their hands and shouted "Kamerad" and gave
themselves up. A few shots were fired at us and a
few men on our side fired back. After this, all the
Germans in sight stopped firing and came in around
us, having thrown down their arms and equipment.
Before we could line them up in column and move them
out, German machine gunners, whom we had not seen
before this, commenced firing down the hill at our
men. This fire came mostly from opposite our own
flank. We had six men killed and three wounded in
a very short time.
When the heavy firing from machine guns com-
menced, I was guarding some of the German prisoners.
During this time I only saw Privates Donohue, Saccina,
Beardsley and Muzzi. Private Swanson was right
near me when he was shot. I closed up very close to
the Germans with my bayonet on my rifle and pre-
vented some of them who tried to leave the bunch and
get into the bushes from leaving. I knew that my
only chance was to keep them together and also to
keep them between me and the Germans who were
OFFICIAL STORY OF FIC?HT 255
shooting. I heard Corporal York several times shout-
Ing to the machine gunners on the hill to come down
and surrender, but from where I stood, I could not
see Corporal York* I saw him, however, when the
firing stopped and he told us to get along the sides of
the column. I formed those near me in columns of
This statement was read to Private Wills, after
being taken, and he stated that same was correct.
I certify that the above is statement made by Private
George W. (1,910,418) Wills, Company G, 328th
Infantry, to which he made oath before me.
G. EDWARD BUXTON, JR.
Major, Inf., U. S. A.,
Division Historical Officer.
Hq. 82d DIv., American E. R, France.
26 January, 1919.
Private Patrick (1,910,305) Donohue, Company
G, 328th Infantry, being duly sworn, made the fol-
On the 8th day of October, 1918, I was a member
of Corporal Cutting's squad in G Company, 328th
Infantry. When we were sent under acting-Sergeant
Bernard Early to clean out the machine guns on our
left, I was following behind Corporal Cutting. I saw
two Red Cross Germans, and when they started to
run, we fired at them. One of them stopped and gave
himself up. We followed after the other German,
and about twenty paces from where we had first
sighted these two Red Cross Germans, we ran into a
256 SERGEANT YORK
bunch of Germans all together in an underbrush on
the slope of the hill. When we appeared Germans
came running out of the brush and machine-gun
trenches in every direction. There seemed to be about
one hundred of these Germans. Some of them held
up their hands and shouted "Kamerad" and gave
themselves up. A few shots were fired at us and a
few men on our side fired back. After this, all the
Germans in sight stopped firing and came in around
us, having thrown down their arms and equipment.
Before we could line them up in column and move
them out, German machine gunners, whom we had not
seen before this, commenced firing down the hill at
our men. This fire came mostly from opposite our
own right flank. We had six men killed and three
wounded in a very short time.
During all this shooting, I was guarding the mass
of Germans taken prisoners and devoted my attention
to watching them. When we first came in on the Ger-
mans, I fired a shot at them before they surrendered.
Afterward I was busy guarding the prisoners and
did not shoot. From where I stood, I could only see
Privates Wills, Saccina, and Sok. They were also
guarding prisoners, as I was doing. Later, when we
were moving the prisoners out of the woods, I saw
Private Moreau, but I do not know where he was
or what he was doing during the fight. The men I
have mentioned above were all members of Corporal
Cutting's squad, and our squad had each fired at least
one shot when we first saw the Germans and before
Corporal Cutting told us to stop shooting.
OFFICIAL STORY OF FIGHT 257
I was wounded slightly on the shoulder at the first-
aid station, to which I helped Corporal Early, and con-
tinued on duty until that night, when the doctor evacu-
This statement was read to Private Donohue after
being taken, and he stated that same was correct
I certify that the above is statement made by Private
Patrick (1,910,305) Donohue, Company G, 328th
Infantry, to which he made oath before me.
G. EDWARD BUXTON, JR.
Major, Inf., U. S. A.,
Division Historical Officer.
Captain Joseph Woods met me at Battalion Head-
quarters, when I reported with the prisoners the morn-
ing of the fight. Here is his account of it:
2d Bn. 328th Inf.,
82d Div., American E. F.,
Frettes, France, Feb. 21, 1919.
Affidavit of ist Lieut. Jos. A. Woods, Inf., U. S. A.
Personally appeared before me ist Lieut. Jos. A.
Woods, Inf., U. S. A., who made the following affi-
On the morning of Oct. 8, 1918, I was battalion
adjutant, 2d Battalion, 328th Infantry. The Bat-
talion P. C. had been moved forward from Hill 223
to a hillside across the valley and just west of Hill
223, the jumping-off place. We heard some heavy
and almost continuous firing on the other side of our
hill and in the direction taken by Sergeant Early, Cor-
poral York and their detachment. Some time later
258 SERGEANT YORK
I personally saw Corporal York and seven privates
returning down the hillside on which our P. C. was
located. They had 132 prisoners with them, includ-
ing three German officers, one a battalion commander.
I personally counted the prisoners when Corporal
York reported the detachment and prisoners. Cor-
poral York was in entire charge of this party and
was marching at the head of the column with the
German officers. The seven men with Corporal York
were scattered along the flanks and rear of the column.
Sergeant Early and Corporal Cutting, both severely
wounded, were being assisted at the rear of the
Jos. A. Woor>s,
ist Lieut. Inf., U. S. A.
Sworn to and subscribed before
me at Pratthay, France, 23 Feb., 1919.
R. L. Boyd, Maj. A.G.D.,
Adjutant 8zd. Div.
Here is another official check of his:
27 January, 1919.
I certify that I personally counted the prisoners re-
ported to the P. C. of the 2d Battalion, 328th Infantry,
by Corporal Alvin C. York, Company G, 328th Infan-
try, on Oct. 8, 1918, and found them to be 132 in
Jos. A. WOODS,
ist Lieut., Inf., U. S. A.
Asst. Div. Inspector.
OFFICIAL STORY OF FIGHT 259
Here is Captain Bertrand. Cox's account of what the
battlefield looked like just after the fight:
2d Bn., 328th Inf.,
82d Div., American E. F.,
Frettes, France, February 21, 1919.
Affidavit of Capt. Bertrand Cox, 328th Inf.
Personally appeared before me the undersigned,
Capt., Bertrand Cox, who made the following affi-
On the morning of October 8th, I commanded a
support platoon of F Company, zd Battalion of the
328th Infantry. Shortly after Corporal York and his
detachment of seven men succeeded in capturing the
greater part of a German battalion, I advanced with
my platoon and passed the scene of the fight, which
took place before this capture was accomplished. The
ground was covered with German equipment and I
should estimate that there were between 20 and 25
dead Germans on the scene of the fight.
Captain 328th. Inf.
Sworn to and subscribed before
me at Frettes, France, this
26th day of February, 1919.
Edwin A. Burkhalter,
ist Lieut. 328th Inf. Bn. Adj.
OFFICIAL STORY OF FIGHT
THE complete official record of the story has to
include one more document. My own account as it
was takened down at Divisional Headquarters a short
time after the fight. I don't much care to publish the
first part of it. But it is a part of the document and
is an exact copy of the original, which is in the War
Department in Washington, and I ain't got no right
to leave any of it out. I have to publish it all or not,
at all. So I have no choice but to put it all in. I
might say that this is the first time that this document
has ever been published.
The records of the fed Division reveal no more
extraordinary act of individual gallantry and achieve-
ment than is accredited, after careful investigation, to
Sergeant Alvin C , (No. 1,910,426) York, Co. G,
328th Infantry. York is a farmer, 31 years old, whose
home is located at Pall Mall, Tenn., in the mountain-
ous and northeastern corner of the state.
On the 8th of October, 1918. York was a corporal
in G Company, 328th Infantry. This company was the
left assault company of the 2d Battalion, which jumped
off from the crest of Hill 223 just north of Chatel
Chehery and attacked due west, with its objective, the
Decauville Railroad, two kilometres due west. The
OFFICIAL STORY OF FIGHT 261
success of this assault had a far-reaching effect in re-
lieving the enemy pressure against American forces,
in the heart of the Argonne Forest. The local success
achieved by this battalion was, in itself, of outstand-
ing proportions. About 300 prisoners were taken and
nearly 200 dead Germans left on the ground and
material captured which included four 77*5, a trench
mortar battery, a complete signal outfit and 123
machine guns. The attack was driven through in spite
of resistance of a very savage character and most
destructive enemy machine gun and artillery fire. The
battalion suffered enfilade fire from both flanks.
The part which Corporal York individually played
in this attack is difficult to fully estimate. Practically
unassisted, he captured 132 Germans (three of whom
were officers), took about 35 machine guns and killed
no less than 25 of the enemy, later found by others
on the scene of York's extraordinary exploit. York
Is well known in his section of Tennessee for his re-
markable skill with both rifle and pistol.
The following story has been carefully checked in
every possible detail from headquarters of this divi-
sion and is entirely substantiated.
Although Sergeant York's statement tends to under-
estimate the desperate odds which he overcame, it has
been decided to forward to higher authority the ac-
count given in his own words:
"Sergeant Harry M. Parsons was in command of a
platoon of which my squad was a part. This platoon
was the left support platoon of G Company, my squad
forming the extreme left flank of the platoon. The
262 SERGEANT YORK
valley was covered by machine-gun. fire from the right
[pointing at the map], from the front, and from the
left front. Machine guns from the left front were
causing a great deal of damage to our troops advanc-
ing across the valley. Sergeant Parsons was ordered
to advance with his platoon and cover our left flank.
As the fire was very hot in the valley, we decided to
skirt the foot of the hill on our left and thereby gain
some protection. We had advanced a little ways up
to about here [pointing at the map] when we were
held up, by machine guns from our left front here
[pointing at the map]. Sergeant Parsons told Ser-
geant Bernard Early to take two squads and put these
machine guns out of business, my squad, being the left
squad, was one of those chosen.
"We advanced in single file. The undergrowth and
bushes here were so thick that we could see only a few
yards ahead of us, but as we advanced, they became
a little thinner. In order to avoid frontal fire from
the machine guns, we turned our course slightly to the
left, thereby working around on the right flank of the
machine guns and somewhat to their rear, which
caused us to miss these forward guns [pointing at the
map]. As we gained a point about here [pointing
at the map and designating a point somewhat in the
rear of the machine guns], we turned sharply to the
right oblique and followed a little path which took
us directly in rear of the machine guns. As we ad-
vanced we saw two Boche with Red Cross bands on
their arms. We called to them to halt, but they did
not stop and we opened fire on them. Sergeant Early
was leading and I was third*
OFFICIAL STORY OF FIGHT 263
"As I said before, we were proceeding in single
file. We immediately dashed down a path, along
which the Boche were running, and crossed this
stream [pointing at map]. The Boche then turned
to the right and ran in the direction from which we
had come. When we reached the point where they
turned, we stopped for half a second to form a
skirmish line. I jumped about four paces away from
a sergeant and we told the other men to scatter out
because we thought there was going to be a battle
and we did not want to be too close together. As soon
as we formed our skirmish line we burst through the
bushes after the Boche.
"This little stream of which I spoke runs through
a gulch into the valley. On either side of the stream
there was a little stretch of flat level ground, about
twenty feet wide, which was covered with extremely
thick bush. On the east bank of the stream was a hill
having an exceedingly steep slope. This hill was some-
what semi-circular in shape and afforded excellent pro-
tection to anyone behind it. Along the top of the hill
were the machine guns firing across the valley at our
"We burst through the undergrowth and were upon
the Germans before we knew it, because the under-
growth was so thick that we could see only a few yards
ahead of us. There was a little shack thrown together
that seemed to be used as a sort of a P. C. by the
Germans. In front of this, in a sort of a semi-circular
mass, sat about seventy-five Boche, and by the side of
264 SERGEANT YORK
manding officer and two other officers. The Boche
seemed to be having some kind of conference.
"When we burst in on the circle, some of the Boche
jumped up and threw up their hands, shouting 'Kam-
erad. J Then the others jumped up, and we began
shooting. About two or three Germans were hit.
None of our men fell.
"Sergeant Early said: 'Don't shoot any more.
They are going to give up anyhow, 1 and for a mo-
ment our fire ceased, except that one German contin-
ued to fire at me, and I shot him. In the meantime,
the Boche upon the hill with the machine guns swung
the left guns to the left oblique and opened fire on us.
I was at this time just a few paces from the mass of
Boche who were crowded around the P. C. At first
burst of fire from the machine guns, all the Boche in
this group hit the ground, lying flat on their stomachs.
I, and a few other of our men, hit the ground at the
same time. Those who did not take cover were either
killed or wounded by the Boche machine-gun fire, the
range being so close that the clothes were literally torn
from their bodies. Sergeant Early and Corporal Cut-
ting were wounded, and Corporal Savage was killed.
In this first fire we had six killed and three wounded.
By this time, those of my men who were left had got-
ten behind trees, and two men sniped at the Boche.
They fired about half a clip each. But there wasn't
any tree for me, so I just sat in the mud and used my
rifle, shooting at the Boche machine gunners. I am a
pretty good shot with the rifle, also with the pistol,
having used them practically all my life, and having
OFFICIAL STORY OF FIGHT 265
had a great deal of practice. I shot my rifle until I
did not have any more clips convenient and then I used
"The Boche machine-gun fire was sweeping over the
mass of Germans who were lying flat, and passing a
few inches over my head, but I was so close to the
mass of Germans who were lying down that the Boche
machine gunners could not hit me without hitting their
own men. There were about fifty Boche with the
machine guns and they were under the command of a
lieutenant. By this time, the remaining Boche guns had
been turned around and were firing at us, and the lieu-
tenant with eight or ten Germans armed with rifles
rushed toward us. One threw a little grenade, about
the size of a dollar and with a string that you pull like
this when you want to explode it, at me, but missed
me by a few feet, wounding, however, one of his own
"I just let the Boche come down the hill and then
poured it into them with my pistol, and I am, as I said
before, a pretty good shot with the pistol. I shot the
lieutenant, and when he was killed the machine-gun
fire ceased. During the fight, I kept hearing a pistol
firing from the midst of the Boche who were lying on
the ground. This was evidently the commanding of-
ficer shooting, as he was the only one in the crowd
armed with a pistol, and all of his clips were empty
when I examined them later.
"When the machine guns ceased firing the com-
manding officer, who spoke English, got off the ground
and walked over to me. He said : 'English ?' I said ;
266 SERGEANT YORK
'No, not English.' He said: 'What?' I said: 'Amer-
ican/ He said: "Good Lord.' Then he said: If you
won't shoot any more, I will make them give up,' and
I said: 'Well, all right, I will treat you like a man,' and
he turned around and said something to his men in
German, and they all threw off their belts and arms
and the machine gunners threw down their arms and
came down the hill.
"I called to my men and one of them answered me
from over here, another from over here, and another
here (they were pretty well scattered) , and when they
all come to me, I found that there were six left be-
"We searched the Boche and told them to line up in
a column of twos* The Boche commanding officer
wanted to line up facing north and go down through
the valley along the road which runs by the foot of
the hill, but I knew if they got me there it would be
as good as they wanted on account of the machine guns
on the opposite slope, so I said, 'No, I am going this
way,' which was the way I had come, and which led
through the group of machine guns placed here [point-
ing at the map], which seemed to be outpost guns.
We had missed this machine-gun nest as we advanced,
because we had gone further to the left.
"When we got the Boche lined up in a column of
twos, I scattered my men along and at the rear of the
column and told them to stay well to the rear and
that I would lead the way. So I took the commanding
officer and the two other officers and put one in front
of me and one on each side of me;, and we headed the
OFFICIAL STORY OF FIGHT 267
column. I did that because I knew that if I were
caught on the side of the column, the machine gunners
would shoot me, but that if I kept in the column, they
would have to shoot their officers before they could kill
me. In this manner we advanced along a path and
into the machine-gun nest which is situated here
[pointing at the map].
"The machine gunners, as I said before, could not
kill me without killing their officers, and I was ready
for them. One aimed a rifle at me from behind a tree,
and, as I pointed my pistol at him, the commanding
officer said: 'If you won't shoot any more, I will tell
them to surrender. 5 He did and we added them to
"I then reported with the prisoners to the Battalion
P. C. They were counted there and there were 132 of
them. I was there ordered to deliver the prisoners to
Brigade Headquarters, which I did, and returned to
my company the next morning."
It is further interesting to note that Sergeant York
was a member of the Church of Christ in Christian
Union. During the training days at Camp Gordon,
Atlanta, Ga., he informed his company commander of
his church affiliations, and was seriously troubled by
the fact that one of the fundamental tenets of this
faith is a pronounced opposition to war. This contin-
ued to cause York the most genuine perplexity, al-
though he carefully refrained from accepting the mili-
tary status of conscientious objector, declaring that he
proposed to obey all orders while a member of the
268 SERGEANT YORK
Army. His mental doubts were finally dissipated by
his company commander in a long interview before
embarking at Camp Upton, N. Y., at the end of which
York stated that the purposes of American participa-
tion were of such a character that he felt himself able
to take his part with a clear conscience.
Supplementary statement by Sergeant Alvin C.
(1,910,426) York, Company G, 328th Infantry:
"After the German captain had made the Germans
remaining on the hill surrender and the firing stopped,
Corporals Early and Cutting came up toward me.
Corporal Cutting said: Tm hit and hit bad, 7 and Cor-
poral Early said: 'York, I am shot, and shot bad.
What shall I do? I told him: Tou can come out in
the rear of our column with the other boys. 1 Private
Donohue helped Corporal Early out to the edge of
the woods, where they met a stretcher bearer from
G Company with a stretcher, and Corporal Early was
carried back to Chatel Cheherry, when the German
prisoners carried him to the ambulance. Corporal
Early was shot through the lower body. Corporal
Cutting was shot three times in the left arm. Private
Muzzi was shot in the shoulder. Corporal Cutting
and Private Muzzi walked out themselves. No Ger-
man wounded, as far as any of us know, came out with
our prisoners. The wounded German lieutenant was
brought out, I think, afterwards by German prisoners
who went back for him. When we got back to the
Battalion P. C., the prisoners were counted by Lieuten-
ant Woods and Lieutenant Garner. Lieutenant Woods
OFFICIAL STORY OF FIGHT 269
told us to take them to the Battalion P. C. and Colonel
Wetherill told us to take them to Brigade Headquar-
ters at Varennes. Another group of prisoners were
added to those we had and I turned over at Varennes
208 prisoners to the Military Police, and a receipt was
given to Corporal Clark, who had joined us after the
fight was over. The prisoners which were captured
and which were counted at the Battalion P. C. by Lieu-
tenants Woods and Garner, I am told, amounted to
132. I counted them roughly by myself and thought
there were about 146."
Here is the official list of the men participating in
action of October 8th, 1919, capturing 132 prisoners.
Savage 328th Inf.
Dymowski Corp. Savage's Squad Inf.
Weiler Corp, Savage's Squad Inf.
Waring Corp. Cutting's Squad Inf.
Wins Corp. Cutting's Squad Inf.
Swanson Corp. York's Squad Inf.
Muzzi Corp. York's Squad Inf.
Beardsley Corp. York's Squad Inf.
Konotski Corp. York's Squad Inf.
Sok Corp. Cutting's Squad Inf.
Johnson Corp, York's Squad Inf.
Saccina Corp. Cutting's Squad Inf.
Donohue Corp. Cutting's Squad Inf.
Will* Corp. Cutting's Squad Inf.
Pvt. Mary an E.
Pvt Ralph E.
Pvt. Walter E.
Corp. William S.
Corp. Alvin C.
Pvt. Thos. C.
Pvt. Michael A.
Pvt George W.
ABOVE THE BATTLE
ABOUT ten o'clock on the morning of October gth I
reported to Captain Danforth at the railroad. On ac-
count of the long distance we had to go back from
where we handed over the prisoners and the most
awful rough nature of the country and the mix-up and
confusion everywhere, it takened me 'most all night
to get back to him again. The company done been
all mussed up and there were only a few left, but they
kept on a-going through everything, and they done
busted that old railroad. The Captain asked me
where I had been. I told him of the fight with the
machine guns around on the left flank; of how the
other non-commissioned officers had been killed or
wounded; and how I had takened command and
marched them prisoners away back behind the lines to
Divisional Headquarters. He asked me why I hadn't
handed them over at Battalion Headquarters and then
pushed on and joined him. I told him that there was
a whole heap of prisoners and nobody would take
them from me and I had to take them all the way back.
He asked me how many prisoners there were and when
I told him one hundred and thirty-two, he looked at
me with a funny-like expression in his face. He seemed
I had been away from Captain Danforth and the
ABOVE THE BATTLE 271
company for over twenty-four hours, and I knowed he
needed me most awful bad now. He needed every
man he could get, because there was only a few left.
Jes the same I had been doing a heap of thinking about
the boys we had left behind in the fight. There was
jes a chance that some of them might be only wqunded
and still lying out there in pain and needing help some-
thing terrible. I felt I jes had to go and look for them.
So I asked the Captain if I couldn't take some
stretcher bearers and orderlies and go back and look
around, and though he needed me most awful bad he
said it was all right, I could get the detail and go back.
So I got me two stretcher bearers and led them back
to the place where I done fought the German machine
guns. When we got there the Salvage Corps had al-
ready done come and cleaned up the place ; they packed
up the equipment and takened it away. And they done
buried the dead, our own boys, and the Germans. The
ground there all around looked like the most torndown-
dest place I ever had seen. There was an old canteen
lying within a few inches of where I stood. It had
eighteen bullet holes in it. There was a shrapnel hel-
met a couple of feet away, and it was all sorter sieved,
jes like the top of a pepper box. The ground in front
and on both sides of where we done stood was all soft
and torned up with bullets. The brush on either side
was also torned up and there was a sort of tunnel cut in
the brush behind me. Everything destroyed, torned
up, killed trees, grass, men. Oh, my, it was a ter-
rible sight. But we didn't find no wounded nowhere.
We not only searched with our eyes, we searched with
272 SERGEANT YORK
our voices. We yelled, thinking that maybe someone
was in the bushes. But no one yelled back. There
weren't no wounded that we could see ; neither Amer-
ican nor German. There weren't no bodies around
neither. All was terribly quiet in the field. And I jes
couldn't help thinking of the boys that only the day be-
fore was alive and like me. Dymowski dead. Weiler
dead. Waring dead. Wins dead, Swanson
dead. Corporal Murray Savage, my best pal, dead.
Oh, my, it seemed so unbelievable. I would never see
them again. I would never share the same blanket with
Corporal Savage. We'd never read the Bible together
again. We would never talk about our faith and pray
to our God. I was mussed up inside worser than I had
ever been. I'm a-telling you when you lose your best
buddie and you know you ain't never going to see him
again, you sorter know how terrible cruel war is.
There was nothing I could do now for Corporal
Murray Savage or any of the other boys that done lost
their lives. I could only pray for their souls. And I
done that. I prayed for the Greeks and Italians and
the Poles and the Jews and the others. I done prayed
for the Germans too. They were all brother men of
mine. Maybe their religion was different, but I reckon
we all believed in the same God and I wanted to pray
for all of .them.
So we went back, and I remember the boys that got
wounded, and was a-hoping and praying they would get
well. Early got five bullets in the body* and one in the
arm. And Cutting was bunged up right smart. His
helmet was broken. The buttons were shot offn his
ABOVE THE BATTLE 273
uniform, and he was hit in the arm. Well, I had come
through It all without even a hair of my head being
harmed. It seemed sorter hard to believe that I done
come through alive. Two men on both sides of me and
two others right behind me were killed, and I hadn't
been touched. I tried to figure it out how it come that
everybody around me who was exposed done got picked
off or wounded and that I alone come out unharmed.
I have been trying to figure it out ever since. And the
more I figure the more I am convinced that it wasn't
no mere luck or jes an accident. It must have been
something more and bigger than that.
The officers and the experts who went over the bat-
tleground afterwards, some of them several times, and
who takened the statements of all of us who came
through the fight, have tried to give their own explana-
tions of how I come through.
Some of them say that for fear of hittin' their own
men who were prisoners the German machine gunners
had to raise their fire and shoot high, and so the bul-
lets done passed just a few inches over my head. I'm
admittin' that that's a right-smart lot of reasoning but
jes the same they didn't fire too high when they opened
on us. They hit a whole heap of other boys all around
me. They cut up the ground at my feet when they
riddled that old canteen and shrapnel helmet.
Others say that the German machine gunners were
surprised and kinder rattled. They hadn't even
dreamed that there were any Americans behind them
or even near them. Then when we burst in on them
they thought that we were the advance units of a big
274 SERGEANT YORK
American attacking force which done either got in be-
hind them or surrounded them. And that made them
panicky. And they sorter got mixed up and didn't
know what to do. I'm admittin' that that's good rea-
sonin' too. There can be no doubt at all but what we
did surprise them. We takened headquarters with
only a few shots fired. But jes the same the German
machine gunners were quick and were used to being in
tight quarters. These were veteran troops that we
done run into. They had been in the war a long time
and done fought through many battles. They knowed
what it was all about. Then there was so many of
them and they had such a whole heap of machine guns
that it don't stand to reason that they all sorter lost
their nerve and give up. I can't admit that nohow. I
know different. They fought like a heap of wild cats.
I mean the machine gunners did. They kept up a con-
tinuous fire for several minutes. They killed and
wounded a whole heap of our boys. They were sur-
prised and some of them might have been panicky*
But not all of them.
Some of the officers have sorter suggested that I
was the "right man in the right place." They done
tried to make the point that I was a right-smart sharp-
shooter; that I knowed how to handle weapons; that I
could shoot equally well with rifle or pistol; that I
could shoot from either hand, or from any position;
and that this jes happened to be my favourite distance.
They also claimed that I always was cool and delib-
erate under fire. I ain't so foolish as to deny that I
know a whole heap about guns. I do. I know, too,
ABOVE THE BATTLE 275
that I am a tol'able good shot. But I don't care how
good a shot man is, hit ain't in the nature of things
for one man with an army rifle and a pistol to whip
thirty-five machine guns that can each fire over six hun-
dred shots a minute; from a p'int-blank range of be-
tween twenty and thirty yards.
Some of them officers have been saying that I being
a mountain boy and accustomed to woods and nature
done all these things the right way jes by instinct, like
an animal when it is cornered. There may be some-
thing in that. I hain't never got much larnin' from
books, except the Bible. Maybe my instincts is more
natural than of men who ain't been brunged up like I
was in the woods and in the mountains. But that ain't
enough to account for the way I come out alive, with
all those German soldiers and machine guns raining
death on me.
I am willing to admit that all of these explanations
have a whole heap of truth in them. I am willing to
admit that maybe I had all the breaks, and had them
right. Jes the same, there was something else. There
had to .be something more than man power in that
fight to save me. There can't no man in the world
make me believe there weren't. And I'm a-telling you
the hand of God must have been in that fight. It
surely must have been divine power that brought me
out. No other power under heaven could save a man
in a place like that. Men were killed on both sides of
me and all around me and I was the biggest and the
most exposed of all. Jes think of them thirty machine
guns raining fire on me p'int-blank from a range of
276 SERGEANT YORK
only twenty-five yards and all of them-there rifles and
pistols besides, and those bombs, and then those men
that charged with fixed bayonets, and I never receiving
a scratch, and bringing in one hundred and thirty-two
prisoners. I have got only one explanation to offer,
and only one: without the help of God I jes couldn't
have done it. There can be no arguments about that.
I am not going to believe different as long as I live,
I'm a-telling you that God must have heard my prayers
long before I done started for France. I'm a-telling
you He done give me my assurance that so long as I
believed in Him He would protect me. That's why
when I bade my mother and Gracie and all my brothers
and sisters and Rosier Pile good-bye before sailing for
France I told them all not to worry, I would be safe,
I would come back.
I done settled it all with my God long ago before I
went overseas. I done prayed and prayed to Him;
He done given me my assurance that so long as I be-
lieved in Him He would protect me, and He did.
So you can see here in this case of mine where
God helped me out. I had been living for GocJ and
working in the church work sometime before I come
to the army. So I am a witness to the fact that God
did help me out of that hard battle ; for the bushes
were shot off all around me and I never got a scratch.
So you can see that God will be with you if you will
only trust him and I say that He did save me
Now He will save you if you will only trust Him.
THE FAITH THAT MOVETH MOUNTAINS
In this extraordinary entry In his war diary, scribbled the night
after the fight, Sergeant York says that God helped him in hi fight
with, the German machine guns.
278 SERGEANT YORK
After the armistice Brigadier General Lindsay and
some other generals and colonels takened me back to
the Argonne Forest and went up the scene of the fight
with me. They measured and examined the ground
and asked me a whole heap of questions- Brigadier
General Lindsay asked me to take him out like I did
the captured German major. And I did. And then
the General said to me: "York, how did you do it?"
I told the General that It was not man-power but hit
was divine power that saved me. I told him that be-
fore I went to war I prayed to God and He done gave
me my assurance that so long as I believed in Him not
one hair of my head would be harmed; and even in
front of them-there machine guns He knowed I be-
lieved in Him. The General put his arms around my
shoulders and said very quietly: u York, you are right."
I know, of course, that people will say that if He
protected me, why didn't He protect the other Amer-
ican boys who were killed, and the Germans, too ? He
was their God as well as mine, and if He was a just
and righteous God, why didn't He protect them? I
can't answer that, I ain't a-going to try to. I don't
understand the way In which He works "His marvels
to perform." I ain't a-questionmg them nohow. I jes
accept them and bow my head and bless His holy name,
and believe in Him more'n ever.
BUT the fightin' hadn't done stopped yet. There
was some more big battles ahead, terrible battles.
And I was only wishing and praying that a good God
would bring all this man-killing desolation to an end.
Argonne Forest. Well now as we went on fight-
ing our way through the thick forest of the Argonne
woods we could hear the cryes of our boys who were
getting shot and oh my we had to sleep by the dead
and with the dead. But when we were seeing so
many of our boys being shot all we could say is just
to say as we seen our fallen Comrades Good by pal ;
I don't know where you is camping now:
Whether you've pitched your tent 'neath azure skies ;
Or whether o'er your head the bleak storm winds blow
I only know that when your final call come for you
It almost broke my heart to see you go.
But I trust pal that you was ready to meet that last
call. Yes, and now you be carefull that the last final
call don't find you not ready to meet your God in
280 SERGEANT YORK
Fleville, the Argonne Forest. We got to Fle-
Somerance, the Argonne Forest. We had got to
Somerance and during this time we had lost heavy
on our men and was still losing them as you know
that you cant fight in war without losing men and
the Germans was shelling us awfull with big shells
also gas and the boys laying there that they couldn't
burry. Oh my I cant tell you how I felt and when
those big shells would come over and burst then I
heard my comrades crying and mourning. All we
could do was to trust God to protect us and look up
Good by old pal, your body sleeps heer 'neath the sod,
Your soul I pray has gone home to God.
But yet I cant know the greenwood tree that leads
into the vale beyond. Not yet. So close by this
pal, my solitary bunk I had to make to stay over
night and oh how lonely how sad no tongue can
tell. But yet God was with me. Is God with you
if not please don't do as many others have done >
Put it off to long.
So we stayed in the front at Somerance untill we
git releaved by the 8oth Div. boys.
We stayed in actual fighting in the Argonne from
the time we went in, which was the morning of Oc-
THE ARMISTICE 281
tober 8th to November ist. Over three weeks. Fight-
ing in the front line all the time and through those ter-
rible woods. And we were both mussed up right
smart. The woods and us. Those old woods were all
ruined. And we were all shot to pieces. There were
not many of them-there Greeks and Italians left. But
what was left were still fighting like a sackful of wild-
cats. I shore did like those boys now. They were my
buddies. Yes ; they were still burning up a most awful
amount of ammunition. But they always kept on
a-going. Always. The nearest I come to getting killed
in France was in an apple orchard in Somerance in the
Argonne. It was several days after the fight with the
machine guns. We hed a very heavy barrage from
the Germans suddenly drop down on us, and we were
ordered to dig in and to lose no time about it. Some
of us were digging in under an apple tree. The shells
were bursting purty close. But we didn't take much
notice of them. Jes kept right on a-digging. It's
^anny, after you've been at the front a right-smart
while you can almost tell where the shells are going
to burst and what size they are. It Is a sort of sol-
dier's instinct. And this morning they were close, but
not close enough to scare us. And then they got closer.
And we dug faster. I have dug on farms and in gar-
dens and in road work and on railroad, but it takes big
shells dropping close to make you really dig. And I'm
a-telling you, the dirt was flying. And then bang!
one of the big shells struck the ground right in front
of us and we all went up in the air. But we all come
down again. Nobody was hurt. But it sure was close.
282 SERGEANT YORK
Argonne Forest. So we came out of the lines to
a germans rest camp and there we got something to
eat. . * .
I was made a sergeant just as quick as I got back
out of the lines. But, oh, my! so many of my old bud-
dies were missing and we scarcely seemed the same out-
Argonne Forest. . . . And then we started out
and hiked to a French camp.
(No place given). We loaded on French busses
to go to French Camp.
(No place given). We got to a French camp.
Aix-les-Bains. I taken train for Aix-les-Bain.
I had a furlough for 10 days.
Aix-les-Bains. So I got to Aix-les-Bain and went
to the Hotel de Albion and I stayed at this hotel
from the 8th to the i6th and I went a round and
seen some fine scenery I got on a motor boat and
THE ARMISTICE 283
went over to Itala and there I seen some good
There was a bunch of us had been given a ten-day
leave to Aix-les-Bains. We went down there for a
rest. We had been in the Argonne for several weeks
without any relief and were tired and worn out and
went down there to rest during the ten-day leave. We
were staying in private places. We jes went around
seeing the historical places, the old Roman baths and
up on the mountain,
Aix-les-Bains. I went to church. I think the man
gave us a very good talk his subject was the angle
helping the wounded to the aid station. And there
I also seen the old Roman baths that they said was
built 122 years before Christ.
And then it all come to an end. All of this killing
Aix-les-Bains. And the armistice was signed.
And they sure was a time in that city that day and
night. Yes. say did you think that the armistice
was sign on the nth month on the nth day and
the nth hour of 1918. And a nother thing did you
ever know that the war just lasted 585 days from
the time that the President declared war a gainst
Germany until the armistice was signed and did you
284 SERGEANT YORK
ever know that in this little short time of 585 days
that the Americans was over here in France a hold-
ing a 77 mile frount in the Argonne forest*
I don't know that I can jes exactly tell my feelings
at that time. It was awful noisy, all the French were
drunk, whooping and hollering. The Americans were
drinking with them, all of them. I never done any-
thing much. Jes went to church and wrote home and
read a little. I did not go out that night. I had jes
gotten back there and were all tired. I was glad the
armistice was signed, glad it were all over. There had
been enough fighting and killing. And my feelings
were like most all of the American boys. It was all
over. And we were ready to go home. I felt that
they had done the thing they should have done, sign-
ing the armistice.
P ARI S
THE rejoicings which followed the armistice lasted
for several days. I didn't take no part in them. I
don't know why. I kinder think I felt it all so much
that I daresn't let myself go.
Champlitte, France. Well, I'll go on so I
stopped at Champlitte and the French had a dance
that night and they had to go by my bed to where
they was dancing and the girls would pull my feet
until I couldn't sleep for them.
Long, France. I went to see President Wilson
and wife at Long where they had a review. So
there was a large crowd there. I enjoyed myself
very well But I didn't get any dinner So I was not
enjoying a xmas dinner you see, ho ho. So I went
back to my company that night and it was after
dark. So Mrs. Wilson was dressed very nice and
she had a smile on her face all the time. She was
wearing a Smart Sfeal Skin Coat with a Big Fox
Collar and a close fitting Seal Skin Toque with a
bright red rose trimming on one side and a little
286 SERGEANT YORK
bunch of holly at her throat. So she looked very
pleasing and Mr, Wilson was wearing a large black
silk hat with a light grey fur coat he also had a
smile on his face So that cheered the boys to see
Mr. and Mrs. Wilson and hear them talk, ho, ho.
In January I begun to travel over France and talk
to the boys. I was travelling in and out of my Division
Headquarters something like six weeks. I travelled by
motor cycle and automobile. I would jes go to a place
and the boys would come around and I would hold a
meeting and talk to them. I spoke in the Y huts and
out in the open to the battalions and to the assembled
troops on the ground. I got good representation every-
where. Our division chaplain, Rev. C. Tyler, of Mil-
waukee, often travelled with me. He was a nice man
and a powerful preacher. I first talked to the boys in
our Eighty-second Division and then I went to other
On one of these trips they done drove me about
eighty miles an hour on a motor cycle over those old
French roads. It was asking too much of God, travel-
ling like that. In front of the machine guns in the
Argonne I couldn't protect myself. So I expected Him
to look after me. And He done it and I come out un-
harmed. But there was no sense rushing like mad
over those old roads on a motor cycle. So I wouldn't
The boys were longing to get home. They felt they
had done their jobs. The war was over. They were
kinder restless. I was that way too. Now that there
was nothing much to do I begun to get homesick again.
I begun to think more and more of the log cabin in the
Valley of the Three Forks of the Wolf at home in
Tennessee, and of my little old mother, and of Gracie.
Oh, my! How slow those cold wet days in camp
went by. There was nothing to do and so much time
to do it in. I don't like fooling around like that no-
how- I kinder think the waiting, waiting, waiting pes-
tered me a heap more than the war itself did. It jes
seemed as though that old ship to take us home would
Prauthoy, France. I sit a Round all day didnt do
Prauthoy. It was so cold and snowy that I never
did anything but sit by the fire.
Prauthoy. Cold and snowy and never did any-
Prauthoy. Cold and snowy and sit by the fire
Prauthoy. I went to church. It was Sunday and
a rainy day, and we had a nice talk.
288 SERGEANT YORK
Prauthoy. I never done anything much for I was
not feeling good
Prauthoy. I didn't do much.
Prauthoy. On the night of the 26th of February
I taken the a vant and started for Bordeaux.
At last we moved on to Bordeaux.
En Route to Bordeaux. I was on the train and
it came an awfull cold snow storm about 3 P.M.
So we was in box-cars and it was cold and snowing
and we had no fire. So it was pretty tough. But
that was better than sleeping in those old French
barnes where the cows sleep in the parlor and the
chickens in the dining room, ho I ho !
It was even worse in Bordeaux. Jes cold, stormy
days with nothing to do but sit around and think of
home. Of course we did some drilling and marching.
And there were guards and reviews which somehow
now that the war was over didn't seem the same no-
how. There was neither strength nor seasoning in
Once in a while though things did get a bit exciting.
One night the officers had a dance in the Y hut. The
privates were not allowed to go, but they done got
tanked up on some of that-there French cognac. Then
they sorter pushed in on the dance. They picked out
most of the pretty girls; and the girls were kinder will-
ing, too, ho, ho. And they sorter crowded the officers.
I'm a-telling you that made them-there captains and
lieutenants mad. They ordered me to call out the
guard and get the boys off the floor. But that was a
harder job than busting the Hindenburg Line. The
boys hung on to the girls and didn't want to give them
up or stop dancing nohow. The officers were just as
determined to keep the dance private, that is for them-
selves and their girls. So I sorter arranged an ar-
mistice between them. I roped off that old dance floor
and stationed the guards along the rope. So the of-
ficers were able to dance at one end. And the boys
kept some of the girls and danced at the other end.
Later on in March I got me a leave pass and went
to Paris. The first time, I didn't do much but hike
round and see the sights. I done heard a lot about
that-there opera. I had never heard of the word be-
fore. All I knowed about it from what the boys told
me was that it was music, a lot of them stringed in-
struments playing together, so I hiked me to the place
and bought a ticket and they done charged four dol-
lars for a seat! I sat through it all right. I liked
the orchestra, but I don't think I'd ever again spend
four dollars to see another opera like it. I went out
to Versailles and wandered through the palaces there.
I went to the tomb of Napoleon. I went to where they
290 SERGEANT YORK
buried the unknown soldier but I didn't stay long be-
cause it sorter made me sad; and I didn't want to be
sad in Paris; but I was sad jes the same. Of course
I could have gone out like a whole heap of the boys
and fooled around with the mademoiselles and the vin
rouge; and sorter tried to forget the war and them-
there Germans I done killed in the Argonne. But I
didn't drink and I had a girl of my own back home
in the mountains. So I hiked around all day and at
night time I jes got out in the streets and mixed in the
crowd and then went home to bed.
Paris. I rode on the Paris wheel and took a train
ride down to Se Louis 14 Plait at night.
I kinder think that bestest of all I enjoyed my ride
on the Paris wheel. I'm a-telling you that when it
started to go round and round with me on it and the
sky and the ground all got mixed up I not only forgot
the war I done forgot everything, ho ! ho !
I went back to Paris again in April. I was 'ordered
to represent my division as a non-commissioned officer
at the first meeting of the American Legion. That
.was when it was formed.
Paris. I arrived in Paris at 8.30 A.M. and 10.30
A.M. was our meeting. I was there on time at the
Hotel de Gabriel. So we had the meeting all day
until 5.30 P.M. the meeting adjourned.
by Underwood W Underwood
ON THE S. S. OHIOAN
Sergeant York as he returned from France after accom-
plishing what was said to be the greatest individual feat of
So you see I'm a charter member of the American
Legion. It begun right there In Paris, at the Hotel
de Gabriel. The meeting lasted all day until about
5.30 in the afternoon. I attended all the sessions. I
jes knowed hit was going to grow into a big organiza-
tion. It sorter seemed right that the buddies who
fought together in France should have some sort of
organization that would keep them together in peace.
Once I got lost tramping round the streets. That is
the only time that I ever got bewildered as to direction.
Right in the middle of that-thar old city the streets
are all sorter mixed up. They seem to have no begin-
nings and no ends. And when they do have ends they
sorter go plumb up against a blank wall. They call
it a cul-de-sac. So I got lost. I tried to get rny direc-
tion by the sun, but I could not see it. Ho ! ho ! I
tried to remember some of the buildings. I couldn't.
And I'm telling you I couldn't make heads nor tails
out of the names of the streets. I didn't know where
I was. All I knowed was I was in Paris. So I went
up to a mademoiselle and I told her as well as I could
that I was lost and would she be so kind as to tell me
where my hotel was. She was a right-smart girl. She
smiled and then takened me to a street car and put
me on it and told the mademoiselle conductor where I
wanted to go and to let me off when I got there. She
sure did too. So you see I never takened any girls
home in France but one of them had to take me home,
One day some of us boys heard that the Queen of
Roumania was coming in on the train, so we hiked down
292 SERGEANT YORK
to the station. And sure enough she come and when
she seed us she smiled and waved her hand. I was
fairly close to her. She looked very pretty and she
sorter walked like a queen. She had on a black dress
and a kind of black veil.
Paris. I seed the Queen of Roumania. She is a
very good-looking lady So I stayed in Paris until
8.26 on the night of the 9th.
I liked Paris all right. It was a right-smart city.
Jes the same it sorter convinced me more than ever
that cities don't mean much to me nohow. I knowed
in my own heart that I wouldn't give up my mountains
and the hunting and the shooting for all of the cities in
the world. So soon as my leave was up I went back
to the camp near Bordeaux. And I jes sat around
there in the rain and the mud doing nothing and wait-
ing for that-thar old ship to come and take us home.
Oh, my! The days went by slower and slower. It jes
seemed as if we would never get away from France.
I'm a-telling you them were the homesickest days I
ever had in my life.
At last we got ready to sail. The boat done came.
I'm a-telling you I was tickled. So were the boys. But
when we got down to the wharf and begun to load
there were so many of us the boat wouldn't hold us
all. And, oh, my! I had to stay behind with sixty-six
others and do some more waiting. That was pretty
tough I'm a-telling you. But the next day another
old boat came along and we done sailed jea the same.
ON Board U. S. S. Ohio. In the morning we
went down to the docks and eat us a little and then
we got on the U. S. A. Ohio boat at 2.26 P.M. we
broke loose from the shores of France and by dark
we was out of sight of land.
At Sea. Sunday. Sick. We had awfull rough
At Sea. Awfull rough seas. Sick.
At Sea. Awfull rough. Sick.
At Sea, Awfull rough. Sick.
At Sea. Awfull rough.
294 SERGEANT YORK
We had about three or four days of storms and
most awful rough seas. I was right-smart sick for
several days. Had to stay down part of the time in
my berth and part of the time on top of deck. I sure
would have liked to see some trees or those old moun-
tains. Oh, my, that sea ! I didn't feel like talking or
doing anything but lying down and being left toFably
alone. And then I knowed, too, that they were going
to give me a big reception when I arrived in New
York. They done wired out at sea. And that hed
me worried. I would hev got out and walked if I
At Sea. Nice.
At Sea. Nice.
At Sea. Was Sunday we had services in the aft-
ternoon. We Sing Jesus Saviour Pilot me and the
reading was the first psam.
At Sea. Had a storm and the sea was rough.
At Sea. Was nice.
At Sea. Was pretty.
Hoboken, N. J. At 2 P.M. I landed and the ten-
nessee society had a five-day furlough for me to see
New York City. So I stopped at Waldorf Hotel.
Oh, my, I can't tell you how I felt when our ship
steamed up New York Harbour and I seed the sky-
scrapers sorter standing up against the sky. In the
distance they looked jes a little like the mountains at
home when you see them from a long way off.
Oh, my, I was so homesick 1
I jes knowed I would never leave my country again.
I didn't want to nohow. I stood there in the front of
the ship as we steamed up the harbour and when we
passed the Statue of Liberty I sorter looked her in the
eyes and I kinder understood what the doughboy meant
when he said: "Take a look at me, Old Girl. Take a
good look at me, because whenever you want to see me
again you will have to turn around."
I knowed, of course, that a committee from the
Tennessee Society was going to meet my boat. And
they did. They tried to make a most awful fuss over
me. They seemed to think I done done something
wonderful. I couldn't see it that way nohow. I done
done my duty like most any other soldier would have
done when he was up against the same thing.
The Tennessee Society met me at the boat with a
296 SERGEANT YORK
can There was a right-smart heap of newspaper men
there too and they made me stand around and have
my picture taken. There were a whole heap of cam-
eras. So you see I was under fire again. And they
done questioned me. And by the time they had fin-
ished writing about me in their papers I had whipped
the whole German Army single-handed. Ho, ho.
Those newspaper men 1 But they were very nice.
They gave me a right-smart reception in New York
City. They drove me through the streets in an open
car; and the streets were so crowded we could only
go slow. It seemed as most everybody knowed me.
They throwed a most awful lot of paper and ticker
tape and confetti out of the windows of those big sky-
scrapers. I wondered what it was at first. It looked
like a blizzard I didn't understand that it was for
me until they told me. I thought that they did the
same thing for 'most every soldier that came back. I
thought it was a New York habit. And a very nice
They takened me to the Waldorf Astoria, where
they had a whole suite of rooms for me. There were
two beds in my room. Twin beds. That kinder
tickled me. I didn't know which one to sleep in. So I
tried them both.
The Tennessee Society done give me a banquet and
there were a whole heap of people sitting down to the
big dinner. There were generals and statesmen all
over the place. They asked me that many questions
that I kinder got tired inside of my head and wanted
to get up and light out and do some hiking. There
were a heap of speeches. They seemed to be haying a
sorter competition saying nice things about me. They
told me I was famous. And I thought to myself, if
this is fame, having to stay at a big hotel with several
rooms all to yourself and two beds to sleep in and a
big banquet where there are so many people yoi*
couldn't remember them nohow, then fame ain't the
sorter thing I used to think it was,
Of course, everybody was nice. But I'm a-telling
you it was a tough corner for a mountain boy to be in*
Between answering questions and kinder watching the
people around me eat so I would know how to handle
that old silverware without making too many bad
breaks, I'm a-telling you I was busied a-plenty. But
I got through it all right. I didn't know what all the
plates and knives and forks and spoons were for. So
,1 kinder slowed up and jes kept a couple of moves be
hin'd the others. So I knowed what to do. In the
middle of that-there old banquet I got to kinder dream-
ing about home and the little log cabin and my mother
and Gracie and them-there hound dogs of mine. I
knowed I was to be with them soon, and I sorter
couldn't think of anything else.
Jes the same, everybody was nice and meant well
and they all done their best to give me a right-smart
time. '.- ' '' ; ' '. . ' ' .... ". \ . -
Next day I hiked a-plenty all over that old city. So
you see I was still hiking. I done more of that when
I was in the Army than anything else.
298 SERGEANT YORK
I tried to get my mother over the long-distance tele-
phone, but we couldn't get through. That made me
homesicker than ever.
They told me I could have anything I wanted in
New York City. I got to figuring it out and I
couldn't figure that I wanted anything special Hit's
kinder funny that when you can have anything you
want, you don't seem to want anything. That's life.
So hit seems to me hit ain't having things that matters
so much; hits the wanting to have them that counts.
They kept insisting. So I thought I would like to have
a ride in the subway. You see I thought it was right
smart to have them tunnels under the ground and be
able to go all over New York City that way, so they
done got a special train and rode me all over New
York City in the subway. I liked that, ho, ho.
New York City, I was looking at New York
City. On the night of the 23rd I took the train for
Washington, D. C. honorable hull had come to get
Washington, D. C. So I got to Washington this
morning about 6 A.M. So we drove a car all over
Washington almost looking at the city and I had
the honor to meet Secretary Baker of war and shake
hands with him.
Congressman Cordell Hull takened me in charge
and showed me all over Washington, D. C, He tak-
ened me to the White House to meet the President,
but the President was done gone. So I met Secretary
of War Baker. And we talked about the war. And
he was most kind and considerate. I went to Congress.
They takened me there on the floor of the House.
And the members all come around me. And there was
more questioning and a whole heap of cheers and ap-
plause. By this time I was sorter feeling like a red
fox circling when the hounds are after it. I was be-
ginning to wonder if I ever would get back to my own
The next day I went back to New York City again ;
and they takened me to the stock exchange in Wall
Street. That didn't mean nothing to me nohow. A
country boy like me jes couldn't understand what it
was all about. Rifle-guns, hounds, foxes, coons, moun-
tains, shootin' matches I understand these things. I
belong to them and I'm a-thinking they belong to me.
But money and big business were things I jes didn't
understand nohow. The streets in that part of New
York City are most awful narrow and plumb full of
people. I figured it was sorter funny that people
would be willing to crow'd together and work and live
in such cramped-up spaces when there's such a heap of
open country and grass and sky in other parts of Amer-
ica. But then you see I was a country boy and didn't
understand the city life.
About this time they begun to pester me with a
whole heap of officers to go on the stage and into the
movies. They offered so much money that it almost
takened my breath away. I thought to myself,
300 SERGEANT YORK
wouldn't I look funny in tights, ho, ho. Besides, I
sorter felt that to take money like that would be com-
mercializing my uniform and my soldiering. I knowed
if I hadn't been to war and hadn't been a doughboy
they never would have offered me nothing nohow. I
also knowed I didn't go to war to make a whole heap
of money, or to go on the stage or in the movies. I
went over there to help make peace. And there was
peace now. So I didn't take their thirty pieces of sil-
ver and betray that-there old uniform of mine. I
would have been interested in helping to make the pic-
tures if I didn't have to be in it myself and if they
would do it, not to make a heap of money /or them-
selves or for me but jes to show what the boys done
done over there, and also to show what faith will do
for you if you believe in it right. But I knowed they
weren't interested in that. They jes wanted me to
show how I done killed the Germans in the Argonne.
So I wouldn't have nothing to do with them nohow.
They also offered me a heap of money to write news-
paper stories and to sign advertisements. But I didn't
want to do that either.
I jes wanted to be left alone to go back to my begin-
nings. The war was over. I had done done my job and
I had done it the bestest I could. So I figured I ought
to be left alone and allowed to go home to the moun-
tains where I belonged. I sorter felt, too, that if
they wanted to do something right smart for me they
might help me to get a soon-go for home. The Army
officers understood me and I understood them and
they sent me South to be demobilized as soon as they
could get the papers fixed up.
I'm a-saying right here that they treated me right
smart all the time that I was in the Army, They done
played the game with me and they played square. So
far as I am concerned the officers and everybody con-
nected with the Army done done the right thing by
me. They were right-smart folk.
In late May I got my transportation papers to Ft.
Oglethorpe, Ga., and there I got my discharge papers
and transportation home. But I can't tell you what
I felt like when I got home in May, 1919. The moun-
tains sure looked good to me. The mountain people,
thousands of them, come from all over jes to say
howdy. All of my big brothers were there and my
sisters and my mother.
As soon as I got back to the little old log cabin in
the Valley of the Three Forks of the Wolf I went
a-hunting not for coon, or possum or fox or squirrels
I went a-hunting for Grade. I done found her too.
And what I said to her and what she said to me and
what we said to each other ain't nobody's business
Then I went out on the mountainside where I used
to pray and when it was all quiet and there was no-
body around nohow, I returned thanks to God. He
had given me my assurance that even if I didn't think
it right I should go jes the same; and would be pro-
tected from harm; and would come back without a
hair of my head injured. I don't know what I said to
302 SERGEANT YORK
Him. I disremember. I don't know that I said any-
thing* I jes felt.
And, oh, my, what a joyful time I had with th em-
there hound dogs of mine. I done set down and
looked at them and patted them and they wagged their
tails and licked my hands, and then, ho, ho, they bayed
and sorter circled round, and sorter lit out for the
woods; jes to sorter remind me that they hadn't been
foolin' round nohow while I was away, and they still
knowed where the coons and possums and the foxes
In a few days I had the old uniform off and the
overalls on. I done cleaned up the old muzzle-loader.
It was all over. I was home.
IN A PEACE-TIME SETTING
Sergeant Alvin C York and his three sons in front of their
home in the Valley of the Three Forks of the Wolf,
A HEAP o' LARNIN'
NOTHING seemed to have changed much. The lit-
tle old log cabin was still there at the head of the
spring and the water in it was a-running and a-singing
the same as ever. The razorbacks were rooting for
acorns and hickory nuts jes as before. Their bells, and
the cow bells, too, sounded much the same. The dog-
wood blossomed white and the red-bud pinkish-like,
jes as they used to. Though I seemed to notice them
more now. The hills were as they always were, blue
and kinder dreamy. And the people hadn't changed
nohow. They were putting in their crops, working
from sunup to sundown.
The same crowd of mountain boys and girls were
to be seen at the store. The little church on the hill
was doing tol'able well. Rosier Pile held his Sunday
school the same and the kiddies larned their lessons
and some of them fell off to sleep jes about the same.
The war had come and gone. Millions of boys had
been killed and wounded. Millions of dollars had been
poured out jes like water. Homes all over the world
had been desolated. Some of the old countries had
been all mussed up and new ones had come up and
sort of takened their places. The whole outside world
seemed to have changed. But not our valley. Every-
thing there was kinder the same.
But I knowed, though, that I had done changed. I
knowed I wasn't like I used to be. The big outside
world I had been in and the things I had fought through
had teched me up inside a most powerful lot. The old
life I had lived seemed a long, long way behind me.
It seemed to be a sort of other life in another world.
I knowed I had changed. I was sort of restless and
full of dreams and wanting to be doing something;
and I didn't understand. So I sat out on the hillside
trying to puzzle it out.
Before the war I had never been out of the moun-
tains. I had never wanted to be. I had sorter figured
that them-there mountains were our shield against the
iniquities of the outside world. They sorter isolated
us and kept us together so that we might grow up pure-
blooded and resourceful and God-loving and God-fear-
ing people. They done done that, too, but they done
more'n that. They done kept out many of the good
and worthwhile things like good roads, schools, li-
braries, up-to-date homes, and modern farming
methods. But I never thought of these things before
going to war. Only when I got back home again and
got to kinder thinking and dreaming, I sorter realized
Then I knowed we had to have them. We jes had
to. And the more I thought the more I kinder figured
that all of my trials and tribulations in the war had
been to prepare me for doing just this work in the
mountains. All of my suffering in having to go and
kill were to teach me to value human lives. All the
temptations I done went through were to strengthen
A HEAP O' LARNIN' 305
my character. All the associations with my buddies
were to help me understand and love my brother man.
All of the pains I done seed and went through were
to help and prepare me. And the fame and fortunes
they done offered me in the cities were to try me out
and see if I was fitted for the work He wanted me
Again the Devil taketh him into an exceedingly high moun-
tain and showeth him all the kingdoms of the world, and the
glory of them ; and he said unto him, all these things will I give
thee, if thou wilt fall down and worship me. Then saith Jesus
unto him, get thee hence, Satan, for it is written, thou shalt
worship the Lord thy God an4 Him only shalt thou serve.
So He was tempted. So everybody since, who is
called on to do good, is tempted* So I, an unlarned
mountain boy, was tempted too.
But I done come through it all all right. My
prayers and the prayers of my mother and Pastor Pile
and a whole heap of other friends were answered.
So I talked to Gracie about these dreams of mine.
She understood. She done always understood. So
we done got married. Governor RIoberts, the Gov-
ernor of Tennessee, done come down to our valley
and performed the ceremony. Thousands of people
come from all over Tennessee to see the goings-on.
And the mountain people provided the vittles. They
brought in goats and hogs and turkeys and slaughtered
and dressed them right there on the hillside. They
set up a table, the largest I ever seed, and they done
piled hit up with all the meats and eggs there was and
with sweet potatoes and cornbread and milk and jams
3 o6 SERGEANT YORK
and cakes and a whole mess of other things. We were
married on the mountainside above the spring and*
under the shady trees and with the blue mountains and
green grass and the flowers all around.
Then I begun what I felt was my life work. I went
to the State Highway Department and asked them
to build a road through the mountains. And they done
done it. They built what we now call the York High-
way right across our county. Then the other counties
done noticed it and built roads on either end. And
to-day we have a right-smart road running through
this-here mountain country. And there were only
mountain trails and old dirt roads that were no good
nohow and creek beds here before. That was the be-
Then I begun to work for a school, an up-to-date
school in our county. We done needed it most awful
bad. We only had a few schools here. They were
all frame buildings, and some of them were well-nigh
uninhabitable. There was only one high school. Very
few of the teachers were college graduates. So,
you see, we needed new buildings and up-to-date
teachers and equipment most awful bad. So I raised
about $15,000 myself and the state and the county
each put up $50,000. That gave me $115,000 to
build new schools. I wanted a modern, up-to-date
vocational school, which later on could be sorter
developed into a mountain college. The Board they
give me couldn't see things the way I did. So I have
had a most awful hard fight, a much worser one than
the one I had with the machine guns In the Argonne.
A HEAP O' LARNIN* 307
The politicians and the real estate people tried to use
me. The small-town bankers tried to get in on it.
Jealous factions wanted to get a-hold of it and handle
it their way. So it done got held up. And oh, my, I
had a terrible time. But I knowed I was in the right.
So I kept on fighting jes the same. I done got the old
Board put out. I done got the State Board of Educa-
tion to handle the promotion. The school is a quasi-
state institution to-day. And hit's a-coming. At this
moment we have two fine new school buildings with
right-smart teachers and up-to-date equipment in Jim-
town. And that's only the beginnings.
As soon as I can get the money to make them self-
supporting, and have proven that I can successfully
look after them I'm a-thinking they're a-going to be
handed over to me. And then I'm a-planning to sorter
turn them into a mountain college for vocational edu-
cation. I'm a-going to teach the mountain boys and
girls the trades ; dairying, wood-working, carpentering,
fruit growing, the breeding of pure-bred livestock,
dressmaking, and so on. I'm going to have them in-
structed in health and hygiene. I'm going to train
them to be self-supporting.
If they're too poor to pay their way I'm a-going
to give them a chance to work their way through. If
they live back in the mountains where the roads are
too bad to get out I'm a-going to build good roads to
them. I don't know of no part of America nohow
that needs all of this worser than we do. In our
county alone there are over one thousand boys and
girls between the ages of six and eighteen that can't
3 o8 SERGEANT YORK
even read and write. And I'm a-telling you it's not
tb.e!r f ault.
Some of the boys and girls who are going to our
two schools to-day walk two miles through the moun-
tains out to the highway, where they catch the school
buses and then ride fourteen miles to school; then
after the school is over they have to return the same
way. I kinder think that boys and girls who will do
this day after day, week after week, right through
the school year, want and deserve a chance to git
larnin' most awful bad.
Whenever I go away on a trip for the schools they
meet me as soon as I git back and ask me haven't I
got more money, so that they can get more larnin'.
I'm a-telling you hit kinder gives me my assurance
again that I am right, dreaming and planning these
things for them. That ain't all nohow. I'm a-plan-
ning playgrounds for the children, too, and libraries
and a medical and nursing system.
Of course, in such things as electric lighting, sewage,
water supply, and up-to-date homes our mountain
towns and villages are sorter away behind the times.
But I'm a-thinking if I can bring larnin' to the children
they will grow up and change all these things. I can't
influence the older people much nohow. They're
sorter set in their ways. But if I can get the children
to school and to college, the rest will come.
I ain't had much larnin* myself; so I know what an
awful handicap that is. I'm a-trying all the time now
to overcome that and improve myself. I ain't had
much business experience neither, but I'm working*
A HEAP O' LARNIN' 309
hard to get that. I don't know much about finance*
but I know I am honest and I am larnin' to handle
I am blessed with a whole heap of most loyal and
powerful friends all over America; and I still have
and always will have my faith in God. I know He
will not fail to help me. So I'm getting along tol'able
well. Hit's a-coming that dream of mine. I'm
a-going some day to have roads all through these-
here mountains; to have modern homes and all sorts
of other improvements and sanitary arrangements in
our towns and villages; and most of all, to have a
heap of schools and a right-smart mountain college.
I ain't going to show any favouritism nohow. I
fought with Catholics and Protestants, with Jews,
Greeks, Italians, Poles, and Irish, as well as American-
borned boys in the World War. They were buddies of
mine and I larned to love them. If there is any of
them in these-here mountains we'll make a place for
them in these schools. I'm a-going to give all the
children in the mountains the chance that's a-coming
to them. I'm a-going to bring them a heap o' larnia'*
1 36 028